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June 1, 2022IM -
Tammy Kirk, secretary-treasurer of Local 94 (Tulsa, OK), has some sound advice for locals looking to increase membership. Look beyond the music venue and the local roster to the community at large and create sources for new membership. Look to build strong relationships with your community’s arts centers, its music institutions, and regional universities—all of which, she admits, takes time, but it’s these very strategic collaborations that yield dividends in young members.
“Find programs that your community already has, reach out and do union education—and catch them young,” says Kirk. “Our jurisdiction includes most of Arkansas as well as the northeastern half of Oklahoma. I did union education presentations at the University of Arkansas, Tulsa University, Oklahoma State University, Northeastern State University, Tulsa Community College, as well as at the Crane School of Music, SUNY Potsdam, on several occasions.”
Recently, one of its members, percussionist Stephin Booth, steered Local 94 to a potential partner, Brandon House Cultural & Performing Arts Center. The Little Rock, Arkansas, nonprofit offers innovative, arts-based experiential learning for underrepresented and underserved youth, aspiring artists, and musicians—and they have a house band.
Zoom calls were arranged and Kirk and Local 94 President Bruce Schultz had an initial meeting with co-founders Dr. Patrice Bax, program director, and Dr. Pam Bax, executive director.
“Bruce and I were so impressed with their program that we invited them to join our next executive board meeting via Zoom,” Kirk says, “Patrice Bax gave a highly organized presentation on their programs and planned facilities. The board was equally impressed.” She adds, “We quickly named Stephin Booth our business agent for Little Rock, anticipating a wonderful partnership.” As the local representative, he would facilitate sessions with members, give feedback on membership benefits, and provide assistance with contract negotiation.
There were hurdles, Kirk says, but by early January, they met via Zoom with a group of Brandon House musicians to talk about the benefits of joining the AFM. By spring, Local 94 had 15 new membership applications—owing to the support and enthusiasm of Brandon House.
“One of the reasons we wanted this partnership is because we have found that while musicians are very talented and skilled in their profession, they need to be connected to an advocacy group that represents their interests as professional musicians,” says Bax.
During the upheaval of the last couple of years, Kirk was not convinced any kind of recruitment could happen. “It started out organically. Stephin bringing them to us—in the midst of the pandemic. It took time. I was skeptical it would succeed. But then, I’m sitting here with 15 new members—and I’m very excited!”
“Brandon House complements the goals of Local 94 by being a dedicated space where union members can have rehearsals and performances, as well as recording and editing sessions with the total support of the union,” says Bax.
From the start, Kirk knew that the partnership would bring great cultural diversity to Local 94. The range of the programs at Brandon House—and creating an inclusive environment are of vital importance for the future of the union. Kirk says, “Now, we hope to get the Brandon House band into a CBA.” Eventually, she hopes to make Music Performance Trust Fund (MPTF) sponsorship available to them.
Kirk’s advice for enhancing membership: Once you have members, get them involved. Use whatever skill sets they have to offer, be it communications, technical proficiency, or PR experience. Kirk says, “Pull new recruits in and get them engaged.”
“The union is a relationship business. It’s about listening to people. Particularly after the pandemic, when everyone has been so isolated, and the music business has been hit so hard. People appreciate personal contact.” Kirk emphasizes that grassroots approach, saying, “Find people in your local who are versed in that skill set and form a committee, enlisting their help. There is nothing like one-on-one, a phone call. It’s on-the-ground work that must be done.”