Venus DeMars’ top 5 tax tips for artists

Transgender rock musician Venus DeMars has emerged from a 19-month battle with the Minnesota Department of Revenue, and won. She and her spouse, writer Lynette Reini-Grandell, learned plenty along the way and offer these bits of advice to other artists when it comes to their taxes.

Venus DeMars
Venus DeMars put this image up on her Facebook page when she received the final ruling from the Minnesota Department of Revenue

1. Hire an accountant

"Theoretically that protects you," said Reini-Grandell. "For us it meant that we knew we were doing the right thing -- we weren't guessing.  We felt we had a professional who knew how to put these things together, so we knew it was just a matter of fighting this through with the state."

2. Keep it legal

Grow the Future of Public Media

MPR News is Member supported public media. Show your support today, donate, and ensure access to local news and in-depth conversations for everyone.

"Don't fool around, don't do dumb things with your money, don't hide stuff," said DeMars. "I think as artists we need the moral high ground in this, because if we do come up against something like this we need to be able to have the confidence to fight it. So you really can't have things in the closet that you're afraid will come out."

3. Know your numbers

"I think maybe one of the reasons they picked on us was because they thought artists and poets can't do numbers, can't do math," said Reini-Grandell. "They believed we were easy pickings. It's important for the artistic community to stand up and say 'no, we are professionals, we know what we're doing.'"

4. Hire a lawyer

"I think if we'd had a lawyer at the first interview, our auditor would have listened and this would not have gone down the road it did," said DeMars.  "I think if an artist feels that their status as an artist is being challenged and they feel that they have done everything right, they should have a lawyer. Just spend the money, spend the $1,500 that it takes -- put it on a credit card if you have to -- get them there and have them present at that first interview, and it will be money well spent."

5. Know your legal precedents

DeMars and Reini-Grandell's lawyer used the following citations in appealing their case with the Minnesota Department of Revenue:

The proper focus is the taxpayer's subjective intent to make a profit.  -- Skeen vs. Commissioner, 1989

The expectation of making a profit need not be reasonable.  -- Beck vs. Commissioner, 1985

When the case concerns an artist, the courts have consistently held that profitability is not important.  -- Churchman vs. Commissioner, 1977