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Family Matters: the Power of Parent and Caregiver Artists Part 2

This is a continuation of Part 1 of this conversation from the Smartist Podcast, featuring my interview with Actor and Advocate Rachel Spencer Hewitt.

PAAL and the Power of Inclusion

MP: So this brings us to the amazing programs and resources and offerings, everything that PAAL has cooking. Why don't you tell us whatever you want to about what PAAL is creating to support parents and caregivers and this community.

RSH: One of our biggest projects that was in development for about six years just published about 20 chapters.It's our National Handbook of Best Practices for organizations to support caregivers, and we're so excited about it. That's one of the resources we offer for free right now on our website. Just go to Click on handbook, and there it is.

There are chapters on how to create a caregiver fund in your organization that's HR compliant, and gives you tips on how to make it compliant with taxes. There's a chapter for theaters on how to use the five day rehearsal week that's already implemented in Equity. How to do anti-racist caregiver support, gender inclusive caregiver support, pregnancy, anti-discrimination, etc. We also were the organization to provide the first national all disciplined childcare grants, which we also pivoted and expanded to emergency grants for artists with families during Covid.

We've given over $30,000 in those grants to this point, which we're very proud of. And we just completed two of our biggest artistic projects this year, that we hope to make recurring events, which was led by Garlia Cornelia Jones, our Producing Director and Founder of Blackboard Plays, the Black Motherhood and Parenting New Play Festival that paid everyone who participated in the festival. And also we created a black artist exclusive budget so that everyone who was paid was a black artist, and it is developed to create a grant for a black parent playwright. The finalists this year that we developed plays with were for black moms who are brilliant artists and it's some of the best work I've seen.

We also have The Motherhood Concert coming up, which commissioned or paid for six mother composers for their six original songs, that were performed by mothers and fathers to create a blank page grant for a mother composer. So we're continuing to expand our programs, but it's about those resources so that we can train institutions. We go into the institutions and help them improve community support so folks can find connection and also create financial support for folks who are caregivers.

MP: Simply amazing. I'm so inspired and really overjoyed for you to, to be able to be immersed in this and making real change. Just bravo.

RSH: I'm a super fan of yours and all the work you're doing to empower folks in the financial sphere because that's so necessary for our agency and upward mobility.

I'm really excited that this conversation is just the beginning of our connection with each other. We have been growing in parallel paths for the last two years. And it's time to collide a little bit.

MP: One of the things you mentioned to me when we talked before this, is wanting to put some specific focus and centering around single parent families or single caregiver families. What's different or specific in terms of the needs of this group?

RSH: Just to make a distinction, I solo parent, which means 99% of caregiving falls on my shoulders. But that is not single parenting. Many folks involved in leadership at PAAL are single parents. The uniqueness of this reality is that a single parent often takes the burden of providing financially, the burden of providing the caregiving and the burden and logistics of finding employment - all on a single individual. And that is while parenting, while caregiving for dependents, while caregiving for elder care. The single parent household is distinct because there's virtually no infrastructure in our socioeconomic reality to support them and compensate for the burdens that they experience. The love and relationship isn't a burden. It's the financial reality. It's the logistical reality.

To the point where institutions and communities, if you're someone hoping to be an ally on this mission to support folks with caregiving responsibilities, just asking the question, how can we be more of that network that supports that individual? PAAL has a single mother's meetup that happens over Zoom as a digital community, just to create those relationships where they can see and hear each other and the struggles, and do peer mentorship, peer advising and peer support. Also we're hoping to develop resources that support folks directly who are experiencing that responsibility on themselves as a single individual.

MP: I was raised by a single mom, and I saw that firsthand. I think that's a great area of focus, and a real benefit.

I have to say, I'm very much learning the vocabulary for speaking intersectionally. I continue to learn, and I totally acknowledge that sometimes the terminology that I use is probably behind the curve. I'm looking to grow in that direction. I am really educated by the way that you have been so intentional about your language throughout our conversation here, and other conversations.

I would love to know in your perspective, PAAL from what I can see in my experience, seems to do an amazing job of dismantling systemic racism, dismantling white supremacy, dismantling ableism, and really trying to move towards equity and inclusion. What words of advice or encouragement would you share for listeners on how to proactively make space, proactively, open arms in that kind of a realm?

RSH: I just want to add that I'm still learning as well, and I feel that we're all still learning in this space. And, that's what's most important. There are things that we published two or three years ago, where we could have done a better job instead of using mother all the time. Our intentional statement is gender inclusive, that mother is not a term that applies to all marginalized genders, et cetera.

The biggest piece of advice that I would offer, again, what I've learned from my community is to always let the folks who have experienced harm in their own lived experiences be the authority on those experiences.

What we hear so much, especially from parents and caregivers, who are part of the global majority, folks in the transit non-binary community, and I've seen it, it's, it's just astonishing, how automatic it is in some situations; where they will share their experience of harm, and instead of saying, 'yes, I received that, I accept that', the group where they share it will try and explain away what happened. Or try to say, 'well, what they really meant was...' That is doubling down on the harm. What we mean by centering folks with the most need, also means giving those folks the most power in specifying what solutions should be prioritized.

There are even memes going around right now where you're inviting artists into your space, but you're not willing to change the space. When institutions use phrases like,'we've invited a consultant to our theater,' just that pronoun of our still shows possession.

At what point will that consultant ever be able to do work that changes the space unless the ownership and the leadership changes. If you're considering hiring a consultant in an area, actually consider adding someone like that to your board. Adding someone above you who would be making decisions, who you would be answering to, who has authority on the lived experience that you're trying to create space for.

Our vertical 50/50 is called Vertical 50/50 because every level of leadership has those lived experiences, centers those lived experiences, because we want that representation to mean that in whatever capacity you engage with PAAL, you can always look through the different departments, look through the different points of leadership, and there will never be a ceiling.

There will never be a sudden stopping point of this is where representation stops for me. Our goal is to say, no matter where you look through the decision makers of PAAL, it's continually permeable for representation.

Those would be the two things. One, is to listen to the stories that people share. Let people have authority of their own lived experiences, especially those who've experienced harm.

And then two, don't just ask for advice and ways to learn. Do a power dynamic flip and put yourself in a learning position, in a lower power dynamic position, underneath someone who has that lived experience and see how that changes your environment and your influences, and your ability to expand your perspective and insight.

MP: Thank you for sharing that and, and for leading by example.

RSH: I'm very grateful to the folks on our board and the folks on our exec team, truly. Anything I share that's valuable, I've learned from my community and from being honest about the reality of trauma.

Leading Organizational Change

MP: When we're talking about organizational change, and the ways to implement that, you talked a little bit about the National Handbook of Best Practices, and I think that is such a phenomenal resource that PAAL has put together to give guidance, to give an accessible resource for best practice. What's the reaction and the reception been as you released that?

RSH: Enthusiastic. It's a little dense, so folks are like, where do I start? But mostly enthusiastic. This handbook is chock full of examples of solutions that exist, have existed, or that we have created and we have applied to put the reality of those solutions into writing and record. It creates a word that's huge for me personally this year in my practice with my self-care and in my practice for organizational care, it's about accountability.

Where suddenly folks are empowered. Individuals are empowered. Institutions are empowered. We call it the new standard of care. We want to elevate the standard of care for caregivers, and here's the standard. This is the expectation, this is the accountability.

And that's actually liberating for people. You would think that's gonna put too much pressure, but it's pressure in the right way. It's direction, it's expectation, expectation for justice actually, which is the appropriate model for expectation.

It's been so encouraging to hear folks say, that the fact that it exists has empowered them to speak to their institutions about it and to reference back. It's been extremely positive. We're so excited. We actually can't keep up with the worksheets and the different courses that we wanna do surrounding it, but that's all a good thing too, to be in the middle of.

MP: You mentioned earlier, transitioning from a self-driven operation where you were doing research and getting things going in your three initial hubs, to a fully team led organization. So can you tell us how you implemented that? What advice do you have for any of us who are entrepreneurial minded, on how we could run with that?

RSH: We have tried from the beginning to put into practice internally the expectations that we have for other people. So there are some parts of the experience of PAAL growing that have actually felt really slow. To be very transparent, we haven't solved the problem of invisible labor. We haven't solved the problem of everyone getting paid because we're all volunteers, but we do budget to provide stipends at every opportunity possible. That would be the first tip, is start to create value lines for every single contribution that you see your community making. What that does is it not only empowers the people supporting you to feel seen and heard, but it also creates such a beautiful budgetary roadmap.

I'm not someone who naturally thinks in terms of budgets, but this was advice that I got from folks who started nonprofits that were incredibly progressive and inclusive. They talk about how your budget is your mission statement. What you put on your website is just a snapshot of that.

When you do shared leadership, it's an executive decision, but what we have found is that when you have to check in with other people, space and time is created for you to check in with yourself too and ask what are the reasons for this? It creates a more thoughtful practice and organization. The feedback from the outside is that we've grown very rapidly and I see that intellectually, but there were definitely moments at the very beginning; we always had a steering committee, it was always a community, but because this is volunteer work (and I know this is part of the entrepreneurial path too), so much of the beginning is sending the work out and not feeling that return. I did a very bad job the first two years taking care of my physical health at that time of just being like, if I just push harder, I'll get more return. Which we're learning scientifically is not the case. Then it flipped where it was not sustainable and I actually got very sick. Then I thought, this push is not about how much I push, but it's about where I place my energy and where I place my efforts.

I had always used that network, but I thought, what if I only use that network? Where I collaborate with someone on X and I collaborate with someone on Y. Then what that created was the experience of instant return, instant feedback, and instant collaboration. So that when the work was sent out into the world, we could reassure each other. As opposed to like American exceptionalism, all these memes that float around 'no pain, no gain', 'if you work hard, lift weights etc', 'you'll sleep when you're dead'.

When it comes to starting your own business, starting your own nonprofit, being a caregiver,

if we start to fall into this mentality, which I am only just now feeling like I'm overriding, this mentality of, like when I first had my kid 'I'll pull myself up by my bootstraps. I will solve this problem and I will move it forward', we also start to miss-feed our ability to track the return because we start to track the return based on the energy that we're getting back in comparison to the energy that we're putting out.

If we keep putting out that energy and the return isn't matching up, that will categorically lead to burnout. Burnout is actually what's gonna kill your business, not taking time to rest. Burnout's what's gonna slump your not profit, not taking time to rest.

I was just talking to someone the other day who had some time and wanted to get involved with PAAL. Rule number one; if someone wants to participate in your organization, if someone believes in your job, ask them; What's your passion? What excited you about this? Get them involved where their passion is, because that will always help them stay on track.

And then two; I would say that what we always give is permission to say 'we're talking about your bandwidth now, but if at any point in this process, life happens, which is the whole point of this organization, just say the word and you'll receive nothing but support. And nothing, but yes.' We believe that when that happens to that person and they need to step away and they need to step back, that it's our job to adjust. I'm not saying that it's easy or comfortable, but it has always been beneficial. It's so antithetical to everything that anyone has ever taught me about infrastructure, but from a patriarchal standpoint. This idea of communal development and shared power structure has to do with when one person has to shift away, we shift in together. And when they're ready to come back, we open up. If we stay in that mode of feeling each other's rhythms and being transparent about it, we actually become so much more adept at doing it.

When an organization is rigid, when someone gets sick and falls away, the structure breaks because it's not malleable. It's like working out. Stay flexible so you don't pull a muscle.

MP: I've taken a similar approach with myself with Smartistry, which is just that, it's a long game. It's a never ending marathon, not a sprint. I would rather pace myself and do things well and take the time that is needed, rather than just pushing, pushing, pushing. I'll be the first to confess to Smartistry listeners, my monthly newsletter is now quarterly. It's not happening on a monthly basis.

The Risk We Face

So, as we start to wrap up these questions, what do our community stand to lose if we don't make space for parent and caregiver artists?

RSH: We are losing great talent in individuals. We are. It's not something that will happen in the future, it's something that's already happened. It's very difficult to quantify, but the numbers by which people leave the arts, are so much more reliable than the numbers of folks who become caregivers and stay involved.

When we talk about the bleeding pipeline, when we talk about gender parity, when we talk about, equity, diversity and inclusion, when we talk about disability access, we have this huge leak point in every single category when it comes to caregivers, because that is a reality. That is a reality of every single inclusion initiative that you can think of.

And when it's not supported and not taken care of, we lose people. Actual people, human beings disappear from your circles of contribution and creation. The other thing that we lose, that we don't talk about enough, is we lose our organizational ability to have sustainable infrastructure.

There's this inflexibility model that is actually the voice behind refusing to create caregiver support. It's not that it's actually not sustainable because we have the numbers to prove otherwise. We actually have the budgeting numbers of what it costs to create caregiver support, the numbers are real and they're sustainable. So the voice that says this is not sustainable is the voice of inflexibility. What we stand to lose is our own futures as organizations. We're losing talent. We're losing flexibility. We're ageing, and we're gonna become stale and stagnant.

That's happening now too. How do we diversify your audiences? How do we diversify our staff? By creating access. So they can enter your rooms that are supposed to contribute to them.

The other thing that we stand to lose is our own ability to take care of ourselves in those spaces. PAAL talks a lot about in our compassion training, how you have the conversation of caregiving support in your organization. It's how your organization talks about care in general, and that includes self-care, that includes getting sick, that includes major life events, that includes loss, and then bereavement leave.

Let's talk about that. Organizations having that because the law requires it, but not because they understand why. Part of the ethos is human beings contribute to your organization and human beings experience loss and so it is ethical to support them. There are more major life events that deserve that same dignity and respect. When we don't practice providing that to other people, we won't be able to provide it adequately to ourselves either. So we all should invest in caregiver support because it teaches us a lot about how to take care of ourselves.

MP: I think it's also a time where we're seeing the market's appetite for change. It's good for business to be better. That's what consumers or arts patrons want, they want to be a part of something bigger and greater.

Rachel in the Smartist Hot Seat

We have a tradition on the Smartist Podcast, if you can call it a tradition after 10 episodes, of doing a hot seat for creatives. The purpose of doing this is to demystify financial lived experience, to destigmatize talking about money period. And to let other people know that they have similar lived experience or shared experience, one way or another.

How would you characterize your current relationship with money?

RSH: My current relationship with money is that I have a newfound practice of proper self valuation when it comes to my work.

MP: Has it always been that way? Did you have some belief changes?

RSH: Yes. My family was really big on me with this and I didn't listen. For the longest time I thought it was okay to work for free as long as you're passionate about it. Now there's a lot of volunteer work with PAAL and there were always be passion projects that you don't get paid for, but that is different than working for opportunity based on exposure and opportunity, which was a big part of my first decade of professional work of being underpaid and over extended, and feeling like the only acceptable attitude was gratitude.

I feel like you're allowed to be grateful and honest about financial realities. And you're not being ungrateful if you say this is not enough money. You're not less of an artist for turning down work because you can't afford it. That's something that I only had the empowerment to say out loud to myself because I got pregnant and had kids and had to pay for childcare.

I was like, 'that's not enough to leave my baby and get a babysitter.' I wish I had had that confidence to say that for myself and not just accept every opportunity.

MP: So let's play a quick game of free association. I'm gonna say a quick phrase and you tell me what, what your reaction is to that.

The first, debt.

RSH: Overwhelming.

MP: Savings.

RSH: Difficult to maintain.

MP: Health insurance.

RSH: Employment

MP: Life insurance.

RSH: Scary to think about. Death. It's weird. It's a heavy thing for emotional people like me.

MP: The last one is financial advisor.

RSH: Too expensive, which I know is not [true]. I know all financial advisors would be thinking it's a myth. But financial advisors are for people with finances. The myth that still comes to mind for me, even though I know it's not true, but it's there.

MP: What would you say today is your biggest area of financial or lifestyle struggle?

RSH: Savings.. Knowing what to set aside for a rainy day. I hate that phrase because it's like there's rain every day. I feel like set aside for a rainy day is a life that's often financially sunny, but when hustle is a lifestyle for survival, and it's pouring outside and someone's inside and calling you on the phone and saying, save for rainy're out there with your umbrella thinking please don't break and dump all this water on's a silly concept. What is the reality of a savings account for folks who feel there's rain every day?

MP: I think that's a really great, and a very intersectional thought process too. I think save for a rainy day implies that you have any extra.

RSH: And that bad things happen infrequently or costly things happen infrequently. I'm even in a better financial position than I was in my twenties living in New York, eating out of tuna cans with rotten fruit in my fridge, not knowing when my next paycheck is gonna come and searching Craigslist and hoping that they would ask to meet me outside so that I could hand out flyers for cash.

I was spending more money just to get around to go on job interviews, to pay for clothes to wear to the job interviews. It costs more money when you have less of it. So the whole rainy day analogy is for folks when those emergent costs are infrequent, and for folks in need emergent costs are daily.

MP: It's expensive to be poor.

So on the flip side of that coin, what is your vision for a perfect work-life balance and what do you think it would take you to get there?

RSH: I still am on the fence of whether or not I believe in work-life balance as a phrase.

I don't think it's a balance. I think it's a moving ship at best. It's an ebb and flow. It's a back and forth. Like I said, I have come farther. I'm not in a place where I have a savings account, but I have come much farther since living and working in New York. And it comes down so much to this understanding of self-evaluation. Where I have learned, especially in this last year, to put on my proposals (my day job is I do freelance graphic design and web design) when I create my proposals, I put my value on those proposals. I don't try and make it cheaper so that they hire me, because it'll always cost me more. With nonprofits too, that's the principle.

When it comes to pitching yourself for work, at the very least, if you don't know how to put together a full proposal, know your hourly minimum and bump it up at least 10 bucks because that's the 10 bucks for the unanticipated events and realities of a job.

It was this point where I just snapped one day again and thought, I'm not working for less than this per hour. It was amazing when I would budget slightly above that and they would try to negotiate me down, they would negotiate me down to slightly above my commitment to myself.

They just need to know that they're being valued, but I can still receive my value set. All my life when I was trying to make it easier on everyone by devaluing myself and making it less expensive, it was costing me more. The whole time the folks that I was doing work for could afford it.

So I've actually made enough now that I have people working for me and I've created a community. I think that the key is to create a self-evaluation plan where when folks negotiate you down, it stays above what your minimum need for profit is.

Expect to invest in someone assisting you to grow. Because as you scale up, it doesn't go from 24 to 27 hours a day. It stays at 24. So if you're expecting to scale, the only way that can happen is that something else expands. And sometimes that expansion has to be the people involved.

You have to expand yourself in a way that doesn't overextend yourself. And that's hiring a virtual assistant for two hours a week. At $20 a week. So that $40 will be the profit that you make from this self valuation practice.

That has actually invited into my space clients who are able to support me that way.

MP: The last question here as we wrap up, what's the most valuable lesson you've learned about personal finance in your career?

RSH: To know your deductibles on your taxes. That's a logistical answer. Get that list of deductibles halfway through the year, six months before those taxes are due. Take a look at what your personal budget narrative can tell the IRS about how much it costs you to invest in yourself as a contributor to this economy.

I would also say personally again, that I don't have to make myself less expensive to be accessible as a worker. My labor has a value set. I can volunteer for those in need, but I don't have to provide my services for free for those with resources to pay me and hire me.

And I think especially for folks in the nonprofit world, those of us who like really have a mission we care about, it's really hard, especially at first to make that distinction because everyone's in need and you're surrounding folks with need. And so just understanding like what's the area of service where the volunteering happens, and then what's the area of speaking truth to power, which is this is the cost of my labor.

This is what it costs for you to ask me to come in and serve your organization, is different than, you need help, I'm here for you.

It's amazing to see how difficult it is, and it's easier to advocate for other people. That's taken me a long time.

MP: It's [like an] airplane mask.You have to help yourself so that you are available to help other people.

In closing, where can we direct our viewers and listeners to go to check out your work and PAAL and all the great upcoming programs? Where should we get started there?

RSH: Absolutely. Everything from our surveys in beta to our programs, to our digital meetups. You can come say hi to us if you just need an adult to talk to. Children, dependents and pets are always welcome on the calls. If you want to look at the childcare grants or handbook resources, the new standard of care and how you can be an ally for caregivers or, how to insist on your rights as a caregiver - they'll be on that website.

MP: Rachel, it has been such a delight spending this time and I thank you for carving out this much time to hang with me.

Everybody go check out PAAL'S website, get involved and leave your comments below.

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