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Updated Feb. 24

If Melissa Hamilton had a dollar for every time an artist came to her saying they’d messed up their taxes, she said, she’d be rich.

Hamilton is the engagement director of CultureWorks Greater Philadelphia, a management firm that helps artists find necessary resources. At the beginning of each year, Hamilton said, artists start worrying about their taxes.

“The pathway to IRS compliance is somewhat murky for artists,” Hamilton said. “We don’t want them to go it alone.”

For the past two years, CultureWorks has teamed up with the Leeway Foundation to provide a free workshop called Understanding Taxes for Artists.

There are often an abundance of forms to fill out when you’re an independent artist, noted Denise Beek, Leeway’s communications director. Some artists operate their own LLCs, some are independent contractors, some work for companies on a freelance basis — and all of these methods of work require different forms, she said.

Tickets for this year’s three “Understanding Taxes” sessions sold out almost as soon as the events went up online after the holidays.

Because of the demand, Hamilton arranged for the March 15 event to be streamed live on YouTube. Those watching from home can submit questions via comment, Hamilton said, and she’ll try to make sure they get answered.

The Feb. 22 workshop, the second in the series, was led by Creative Block Philly‘s Christianne Kapps.

The 20 or so artists in attendance asked many questions over the course of the two-hour event, and Kapps gave many answers, including tips like:

  • Use whatever software you’re familiar with
  • You can probably deduct more expenses than you think
  • A separate business bank account will make things easier
  • Don’t undercut yourself

“The best bookkeeping system you have available to you is the one you would actually use,” Kaps explained. So if you want to use TurboTax, make an Excel spreadsheet or just save your receipts in a shoebox year-round, all of those will work. Just do what you’ll actually keep up with, she said.

The ‘Understanding Taxes for Artists’ workshop on Feb. 22, 2018 Credit: Michaela Winberg / Billy Penn

When it comes to figuring out what to deduct, Kapps ticked off several givens:

  • Gas used to drive to and from gigs
  • At least portion of your phone bill
  • If you have a home office, at least a portion of your internet bill
  • If you have a home office, a portion of other home maintenance expenses (figure out the square footage of the office as compared to the entire house and deduct that percentage)

Basically, if you need something to do business, Kapps said, you can probably deduct it. Just save the receipts. Ideally, you’d make a separate bank account for your artist work for a full electronic record to show the IRS.

“The reality is, you must have a telephone to do business,” she told the artists in attendance. “You must have internet. It’s virtually impossible to do business without those.”

Thursday night attendee Heather Sizemore is a photographer based out of Philly. She hasn’t previously filed her own taxes, but said she was tired of being “totally blind and clueless” to the process.

“I just hand all this information over to a stranger,” said Sizemore, 40. “For my own self, I don’t think that’s smart. I want to know what’s going on. This is my money.”

After the workshop, Sizemore still felt apprehensive, she said. But she does feel she has a better grasp on the necessary info.

“A lot of the time I go to workshops and the information is presented in language that might not be accessible,” she said. “I felt like I was actually able to relate to this information.”

Those interested can follow along live from noon to 2 p.m. on March 15 with the third and final session here.

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Michaela Winberg

Michaela Winberg is a general assignment reporter at Billy Penn. She covers LGBTQ people and culture, public spaces, and transportation and mobility. She also sometimes produces radio and web features...