Removing Legal Obstacles to Artistic Dreams
Chicago is known for its thriving arts scene, which is a big draw for both locals and tourists alike and an increasingly potent economic force for the city. A number of talented individuals and organizations make up that thriving arts scene, and a lot goes into their success. Perhaps the most underrated component of success in the arts is the availability of good legal help, particularly when individuals and organizations are just getting started.
Lawyers for the Creative Arts is the only nonprofit in Chicago that offers legal assistance to financially eligible artists and small arts organizations, and is also one of the many outstanding organizations you are supporting through the Investing in Justice Campaign.
Created over 40 years ago in conjunction with the Chicago Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Section, LCA provides unique pro bono opportunities for attorneys interested in using their business and transactional legal skills to assist artists and arts organizations with their legal issues. The focus is on connecting artists and arts organizations to pro bono attorneys who can help them navigate the many legal issues that are critical to their success.
We are helping people realize their artistic dreams, said Executive Director Jan Feldman. We hope that we will help them to shed their limited means and to make money with their art.
Many of the organizations and artists helped by LCA are grassroots and in need of springing forth from their developmental stage. The organization has not traditionally tracked the outcomes of its matters, but it can claim Chicago’s Goodman Theatre among those it helped at an important stage of development.
Clients of LCA run the gamut of the arts community: from traditional artists such as dancers, writers, visual artists, and musicians, to arts therapists, art educational institutions, and neighborhood groups working to do good through the arts. The legal needs vary across art domains. Photographers often have intellectual property matters regarding unauthorized use of their work on the internet. Visual artists such as painters or sculptors sometimes have trouble retrieving art that they consigned to a gallery. Arts organizations may need help with governance or employment issues. Other legal issues may include: nonprofit formation and tax exemption; contracts; corporate and general business matters; copyright/trademark/patent protection and infringement.
Some of these issues are not problems, but good things, added Jan. Most of these things lead to an artist engaging in commerce.
LCA’s main access point is its website, where people can apply for legal help. Thanks to recent user-friendly renovations, the organization has seen a significant surge in applications in the last year. Staff later follows up on client’s problem over the phone and offers brief legal advice or a referral through the organization’s pro bono program. A current case list organized by category can be viewed online. Staff attorneys also occasionally represent clients, but LCA largely works as a facilitator between clients and pro bono attorneys. It closed more than 1,000 cases in 2015.
Tapping into its network of pro bono attorneys, the organization also offers informational workshops and seminars for artists and nonprofits that help them better understand legal concepts that apply to their area of the arts.
In August, LCA held an all-day Music Law Boot Camp 101 for lawyers featuring Grammy award-winning artist Jim Peterik. The seminar covered issues in the production, distribution, and commercial use of music, including the legal aspects of composing a song and legal issues arising in music festivals. LCA will soon host a seminar on basic intellectual property issues in start-up arts organizations, and it continues to develop one-off seminars on timely and specialized topics important to the arts.
So the next time you’re feeling inspired to support the arts, you can use your legal expertise to do so and rest assured that there is an organization ready to support your patronage.