Besides the day-to-day matters of running an arts-based practice, members of the creative community have a lot on their plates. Whether they’re preparing to grow their practice or wrapping their heads around contracts and copyright, sometimes things come up that can’t be easily resolved with a simple Google search.
Last month, Business & Arts NL hosted a legal clinic whereby artists, artisans and cultural workers of all disciplines received free, one-on-one legal consultation with a lawyer. The clinic, which took place on February 21 at the Neal Building in downtown St. John’s, aimed to connect artists and cultural managers with legal consultation that might not otherwise be available – helping to professionalize and strengthen the province’s cultural sector.
After submitting a request for consultation outlining their query, artists were matched with a lawyer practicing in the appropriate area of law. Olga McWilliam Benson of Benson Buffett, Katie Paterno of McInnes Cooper and Lindsey Wareham of Cox & Palmer each volunteered their time to take part.
“The legal clinic highlighted, for me, the need for us as lawyers to give back to a community of persons we call upon all the time to provide talent, whether in the form of a donation for our many causes or as a contributor at an event we are hosting. Lawyers are often called upon to be members of the boards of directors for community associations, sporting groups and other public interest groups for our particular area of expertise. We forget, however, that the artistic community must navigate the areas of estates, tax and employment (to name just a few) without the benefit of the legal talent on a board or the financial means of a corporation to hire legal representation,” says McWilliam Benson.
“While I have always been appreciative of the artistic community, being a part of the legal clinic certainly gives me a much greater appreciation of how diverse and expansive our community is.”
Paterno says since economic obstacles can hinder access to justice, “which often leaves artists vulnerable and unable to properly protect themselves and enforce their rights,” she views giving back to the community, and encouraging and supporting artists, as a duty. Participating in the latest legal clinic, she adds, has provided value to her as well.
“On a personal level, I have gotten the opportunity to meet some truly amazing and talented individuals within the community, and it has been such an honour to get to know each one of them and learn about their creations. It has been personally fulfilling to be able to give back to the community in a small way by drawing on my own knowledge and skills,” she says.
“On a professional level, it has given me more exposure to the types of legal issues that can arise within the artistic community. While part of my practice is dedicated to artistic clients, I do not get to work with artists as often as I would like. Unfortunately, this is, at least in part, due to the aforementioned economic obstacles associated in obtaining legal advice, which I believe further emphasizes the importance of these clinics.”
Wareham says many artists are uncertain about their legal rights and obligations, and are often unsure as to when to seek legal advice and guidance.
“Places such as the Business & Arts NL legal clinic and other public legal information services are a fantastic resource for this exact reason. They provide helpful and complimentary legal information in areas such as contract and copyright law and allow artists to ask questions specific to their individual situations. Armed with this information, artists can then make decisions as to how to best proceed with their particular project or issue and avoid costly and time consuming problems that might have otherwise arisen,” she says.
“As a lawyer, I find it personally rewarding to provide artists with legal information that can help get their idea, project or business up and off the ground.”
Persistence Theatre Company’s Amanda Will and visual artist Rhonda Pelley are two of the artists who participated in the legal clinic. Will says Persistence Theatre is in the process of applying for charitable status and required advice on how to proceed.
“We met with Olga McWilliam Benson and she was very helpful. She has helped non-profits with these applications before and came prepared with application and reference documents for discussion. She has also offered to help look over our application once we have completed it. She gave very practical and useful advice,” she says.
Pelley worked with Lindsey Wareham regarding Canadian copyright laws. Wareham, she says, did preliminary research regarding her questions and came prepared.
“I am presently doing a project using photo collage and I gather my material from a variety of places. Much of what I use is archival but some of my material is more contemporary – like news footage for example,” Pelley says.
“I showed (Lindsey) some examples of my work and we discussed how copyright/fair use applied to it. It was an incredibly valuable thing for me to do. Personally, it alleviated the worry that I might be overstepping boundaries. I came from the meeting with a sound understanding of fair use guidelines and I can now move my project forward with more confidence. Knowledge is power…I think this is a great service to the arts community and I hope it continues.