California Lawyers for Artists
Category - Arts Resource
Written by Alexandra D'Italia
Editor: Kellie A. Hanna

No one knows the necessity of affordable legal aid better than San Francisco artist, Paul Scofield. Seven years ago, the Phoenix Hotel commissioned Scofield to paint a mural on the wall of a neighboring building. After receiving permission from the building's owners, Scofield painted Leap of Compassion, a vibrantly colored mural urging acceptance of diverse cultures. Recently, the building was bought by developers who are intent on renovation; a renovation which includes removing the mural. Scofield, with support of the local community, wants to protect his largest outdoor project. Knowing that he will need a lawyer, he has contacted California Lawyers for the Arts, known as CLA.

Founded in 1974 by lawyers and artists, CLA's programs and services are designed to help artists understand and apply legal concepts for their benefits. "I quickly got a hold of someone who was an expert on the issues and understood the view of the artist," Scofield said. Through CLA's extensive referral service, Scofield consulted with attorney M.J. Bogatin, an expert in muralists' rights. Bogatin is currently representing Scofield's interests in saving the mural.

CLA has networks of lawyers available to consult artists on a variety of art-related business and personal problems. Such issues include copyright and trademark protection, contract review and negotiation, business partnerships, non-profit incorporation, and landlord-tenant disputes. For working artists without fame or rich parents, the services are affordable. The initial consultation fee is minimal, but may be waived depending on the artist's financial circumstances. CLA also offers arts arbitration and mediation services, which provide efficient, economical and confidential alternatives to litigation.

Bogatin believes that it is important to "introduce artists to themes to make their business as artists successful." These themes include educating artists on market rates for work efforts, the importance of written contracts, and retaining copyright to work. For example, Bogatin advises all of his clients to have a remedial alternative dispute resolution and attorneys' fee clause in their contracts. By including such a clause, potential conflicts are either avoided because the party does not want to risk losing and paying the artist's legal bill, or resolved affordably through arbitration or mediation.

While contract issues are still the predominant problem for artists, whether is it failure of payment or return of work, multimedia problems are increasing. With the emergence of the Internet as a venue for visual art, copyright and proprietary knowledge is becoming even more necessary, according to Tadas Kisielius, CLA's Legal Services and Education Coordinator. As a results, CLA offers educational programs such as copyright clinics where attendees can meet with an attorney for a private consultation as well as workshops in fundraising, licensing agreements, negotiations, and income tax.

Providing more than legal services to artists is important to CLA's Executive Director, Alma Robinson, who believes that both social action and community development are essential to sustaining the local artistic community. Developed in response to the San Francisco Bay Area's housing crisis, CLA's ArtHouse serves as an information clearinghouse and advocate for artists' live/work and studio space. Additionally, CLA sponsors programs providing summer and after-school job training to youth interested in arts, and arts-related training and job placement to low-income aid recipients.

Robinson recommends two indispensable resources for the artist's library: Legal Guide for the Visual Artist by Tad Crawford, which includes information about copyright, sales, and tax; and The Artist's Survival Manual by Toby Judith Klayman, which includes a selection of contract forms.

There are similar organizations to CLA throughout the country. Contact your local arts commission for one in your state.

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