Helping artists navigate legal questions is a good way to help the local arts scene
A couple of weeks ago when I was talking about the new gig economy law in California, I mentioned that there’s a great deal of uncertainty about who counts as an artist in the eyes of the law. The day-to-day realities of being a working artist are so far removed from the experiences of most people—certainly from
lawmakers—that to expect well-informed clarity in any such law or regulation is probably to set yourself up for frustration.
But that’s only the tip of the iceberg. A friend of mine who owns a gallery up in Dallas remarked to me recently that working artists today need all the help they can get navigating a maze of financial and legal complexities that have built up around their job descriptions. He sees it every day through the artists he works with.
In Chicago back in 1972, a handful of lawyers interested in that city’s cultural wellbeing came together to form a group called “Lawyers for the Creative Arts.” Their mission was to provide free legal assistance to artists and arts organizations who otherwise couldn’t afford it. Now almost 50 years later, under its leadership more than 1,800 lawyers have helped literally thousands of artists. Numerous firms and foundations line up every year to support its efforts. In 2014, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin called the group “an angel to the arts.”
Recently the group helped a musician from Chicago recover royalties to which he was entitled. One painter whom the group has helped navigate questions regarding fair use of imagery said, “If I didn’t have the LCA, I think I might be bankrupt.”
Here in Texas, a group called Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts has been offering professional assistance for artists and arts organizations since 1979. It’s now the largest provider of pro bono legal and accounting services to artists in the entire country. From its headquarters in Austin, its volunteer attorneys and accountants help hundreds of musicians, visual artists, writers, actors, and dancers throughout the state each year with questions ranging from tax policy to copyright law. It also holds workshops and seminars around the state to provide artists with valuable information and advice. In the past two months it’s held free income tax workshops in Dallas and Austin at which CPA’s answered questions about the wide range of IRS regulations pertaining to artists.
Happily, there are programs like this all over the country often supported in part by State Arts Agencies and the National Endowment for the Arts. As we approach tax season, it’s good to know that artists don’t have to face these tricky questions by themselves.