United Scenic Artists Records
Language of Materials
The United Scenic Artists (USA), now Local USA 829 of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, is the labor union of scenic artists and designers in the theatrical and entertainment industries nation-wide, but with a heavy concentration of members in the New York metropolitan area. The collection includes by-laws, constitutions, minutes, correspondence, financial records, and legal documents. Also included are files on World War II-era activities of the union, on individual members and their work, and on the union's stringent entrance examinations.
United Scenic Artists is a labor union representing designers and artists in the theater, opera, ballet, motion picture, television, and industrial exhibition industries. It originated as the United Scenic Artists Association and received its charter from the American Federation of Labor in 1918 as Local 829, an autonomous local of the Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades. The union's main purposes were to safeguard and maintain the high standards of the member crafts and to fight unfair working conditions.
The union represents an array of creative professions, and has expanded and adapted its classifications to conform to changes in the entertainment industry. In the 1920s, when scenic designers and scenic artists began to be differentiated from each other, and one artist was no longer responsible for the various facets of stage design, the union accommodated to these changes. In the following decades the union continued revising its classification system to include studio shopmen, costume and lighting designers, display and panorama artists, muralists, and most recently, computer and projection artists.
USA Local 829 has also had a notable political history. During the 1920s, the local was active in a variety of AFL campaigns; many of its members participated in a 1922 strike in Albany to defeat the Duell-Miller Bill, which proposed to outlaw strikes and lockouts, thereby enforcing binding arbitration on labor disputes. In the early 1940s, the union wholeheartedly supported the war effort, and many members left the entertainment industry altogether for the war industries. Others were active in the Theatre Artists and Designers War Service, offering their labor to patriotic parades and pageants, and decorating windows for Russian War Relief.
Jurisdictional Disputes were commonplace for the USA, especially during the period when television and film were burgeoning industries. Particularly intense disputes arose between the union and locals of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) in the 1940s. Most notable of these confrontations was a 1948-1949 strike in Hollywood, which resulted in the USA losing jurisdiction over several categories of scenic artists in California to IATSE; even today, USA Local 829 members in California consist solely of theater designers. During the 1940s and 50s the television industry was growing rapidly as well, and Local 829 moved quickly to develop and secure its jurisdiction. Negotiations with major television networks were complicated and intense, resulting in several strikes during the 40s and 50s. In the 1960s and 70s, specialized contracts with the networks, commercial producers, and motion picture studios were developed to reflect the growth of these sectors.
Throughout the 1980s and the 1990s, USA Local 892 continued to go through structural and jurisdictional changes. In 1983, a group of West Coast designers chose to affiliate with the union, which opened a Los Angeles office to serve them. In March of 1990, a merger with the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades (IBPAT), Local 350 in Chicago was effected and thereby jurisdiction was gained throughout the United States. However, in 1999 the union voted to disaffiliate with the IBPAT and re-affiliate with the IATSE, acquiring the new name, United Scenic Artists, Local USA 829, IATSE.
Series I and II are arranged chronologically; series III and IV are arranged alphabetically.
The files are grouped into 4 series:
- I, Minutes, 1912-1953
- II, By-Laws and Constitutions, 1926-1970
- III, General Files, 1897-1984
- IV, Oversized Materials, 1930-1972
Scope and Content Note
Series I: Minutes, 1912-1975, is comprised of microfilmed executive board and membership meeting minutes on microfilm and in bound volumes, with the earliest dating to September 1912 with the development with the United Scenic Artists Association of America. The bound volumes include minutes covering 1912-1924. A volume, "Book B," that would have covered the years 1920-1922, appears to be missing. Most early meetings are identified only as "regular" meetings of officers; minutes of meetings of committees convened for special purposes are occasionally included as well. This series also includes USA Executive Board minutes from 1930-1953. Researchers must use microfilm when available.
Series II: By-Laws and Constitutions, 1926-1935; 1970, includes By-Laws, Constitutions, and Working Rules from 1926, 1932, and 1934. This series also contains Constitutions with proposed revisions from 1935 and 1970.
Series III: General Files, 1897-1984, is comprised of subject files arranged alphabetically by topic or organization, and then chronologically within each topic or organization. This series provides a broad overview of USA's early history, defining membership and relationships with related and governing unions. Files include contract negotiations and agreements, bound financial records from 1912-1913, the Federal Theatre Project, membership correspondence, material on committees and documentation of membership classifications. Files pertaining to organizations affiliated with the USA can also be found in this series. The extensive Brotherhood of Painters, Decorators and Paperhangers (BPDPA, now the International Brotherhood of Painters and Allied Trades) and International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) correspondence files demonstrate the sometimes tumultuous relationships between the affiliated performing arts unions due to jurisdictional disputes. The Costume Designers files include a record of specific membership requirements to maintain good standing in this section of the USA, as well as documentation of fines for non-attendance. USA's involvement in World War II is represented in the government correspondence, which includes information about the Civil Service Commission and camouflage activities, and Artists for Victory files.
Series IV: Oversized Material, 1930-1972. These miscellaneous materials include records of a dispute between Waldo Angelo and Florentz Klotz regarding Harold Prince's "Follies" (1971-1972) and diorama and display workers agreements from 1957. Also included in Series IV is a large bound scrapbook of theatrical clippings, pictures, playbills, and reviews from the 1930s and 1940s; this scrapbook is not arranged chronologically.
Conditions Governing Access
Materials are open without restrictions.
Conditions Governing Use
Copyright (or related rights to publicity and privacy) for materials in this collection, created by the United Scenic Artists, Local 829, was not transferred to New York University. Permission to use materials must be secured from the copyright holder.
Published citations should take the following form:
Identification of item, date; Collection name; Collection number; box number; folder number; Tamiment Library/Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, New York University.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
Donated by the United Scenic Artists, Local 829, in 1988. The accession number associated with this gift is 1988.003.
Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements
Due to the fragile nature of the original materials, researchers must use the microfilmed version of Series I: Minutes - Subseries I.A; microfilm call number is R7431.
Photographs, sketches, and watercolors have been separated to the Non-Print Department of the Tamiment Library.
These items were reintegrated into the original collection May 2018.