Desert Companion

The art of commerce

Art Tax Art

For artists who don’t know a capital gain from a canvas stretcher, there’s Financial Groove

When sidewalk performers start shaking it in Lady Liberty costumes to remind you it’s tax season, artists might be thinking something different, like: Can they claim that costume as a business expense? For those who make their living in the performing arts, whether to write off their outfits is just one item on a list of unusual financial concerns.

Jessica Scheitler is the owner and operator of Financial Groove, an accounting and bookkeeping firm that exists to bridge the gap between the Internal Revenue Service and the world of artists. Financial Groove offers services in areas like taxes, accounting, bookkeeping and financial planning, and specializes in small businesses, such as dance studios, and individuals in fields from music to theater.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people where they feel like their accountant doesn’t really understand where they’re coming from,” says Scheitler, who has a background in dance. “Just coming from that lifestyle and knowing that these are, as the IRS calls it, ‘ordinary and necessary things’ …  makes it a lot easier for me to get them a better (tax) return.”

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William Adamson, the president of nonprofit arts organization Creative Studios Las Vegas, is a fan. Adamson says Scheitler has “a more comprehensive understanding of what we can write off” than other tax professionals he’s used. “Certainly there were a lot of expenses that you can write off that (other tax firms) weren’t as diligent in homing in on,” Adamson said. “That’s the strength of Jessica’s business. She’s a creative person and she’s also a tough businessperson. That’s a fine tightrope to walk.”

“People don’t realize, particularly in the entertainment industry, that they’re engaged in a business,” Scheitler says. “And business is intimidating.”

Your other agent

Scheitler has a bachelor’s degree in choreography from Marymount Manhattan College in New York City with minors in arts administration and mathematics. She’s also an enrolled agent with the IRS. That means she’s a tax professional who has passed an IRS test and a background check. Enrolled agents can deal with all aspects of taxation and can represent clients’ interests before the IRS.

Because of her dance background, she is familiar with things like Chinese exchange rates — “because of so many people going to take gigs in Macau, China” — and understands that that costume really did cost more than three months’ rent.

“I’ve been there,” she says. “I did the starving artist thing.” Now, Scheitler says she focuses most on translating numbers and making them comprehensible to artists. “There’s always this moment where they get it, where we finally see eye-to-eye,” she said. “It’s just getting them to think that way.”

She also handles general finances for artists. Peter Radd, an independent music professional and jingle writer, has worked with Scheitler for about two years on things like bookkeeping and general numbers consultations.

“She puts everything in order so then I don’t have to worry about it too much, and that’s big,” Radd says. “She’s fun, she’s funny and she’s smart. I trust her. … If I really wanted to do it myself, I could, but I really shouldn’t. It still takes someone with that personality and those gifts to do it for you.”

It’s complicated

Scheitler launched Financial Groove in 2007 after she moved to Las Vegas from New York City for a freelance client. She had worked in the tax industry in New York before the move, and says her contact with artists underscored a need for someone with both financial and artistic know-how.

“There was always this business issue that held them back,” Scheitler says. “There were these people whose work kind of got swallowed by the minutiae of the business world, because as artists, they either just didn’t understand or just completely wanted to reject it.”

For performers in Las Vegas, Scheitler says things can get especially messy. The for-profit model in Vegas tends to complicate things. “It’s a different animal and it needs a lot more care than nonprofit arts do,” she said.

Also, because so many gigs are short, ranging from perhaps a couple days to a couple years, the IRS essentially views each individual as a small business. This means that tax forms accumulate quickly. And when artists don’t know how to handle their finances and the paperwork piles, that stress can hurt their art.

“I want to help advance the arts by giving them a proper business foundation,” says Scheitler. “I want people to succeed in this and I can help them on that end. I can see these little missing pieces that they can’t see.” And hopefully come tax time, an artist will get a refund suitable for framing. 

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