One thing many artists don't have a lot of is legal expertise. Another is money. And in most cases, you need one to get the other. That's where the Maine Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts comes in. The organization, which reincorporated last year (a previous incarnation had been dormant for years) and is part of a nationwide network, pairs creative individuals and groups with lawyers who help with legal maneuvering such as business planning, copyright, intellectual property, permitting issues, and contract-writing.
"It was clear that there was a void, and it was clear that that void needed to be filled regardless of whatever else happened along the way," says Zeke Callanan, a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law who serves as president and treasurer of the Maine VLA. "There are artists who need legal aid, and who can't afford it, and it's standing in the way of them having successful businesses. Our goal is really to help an artist make his or her own work" by assuaging financial, legal, and business concerns.
Last year, after Callanan leaded about the Tennessee VLA chapter, he and a colleague attended a national VLA conference in Minnesota. A board of directors, consisting primarily of local lawyers, was assembled last fall, and the group started taking cases early this year.
Since then, it's provided counsel to approximately 20 artists and arts organizations around the state — but the non-profit is running into some financial issues of its own. It seems that even groups formed to alleviate others' money woes need, well, money. Callanan and an AmeriCorps intern, Andrew Dawson, have been toiling for free to get the Maine VLA off the ground, and he says he's impressed with the "amount of stuff that we've done with zero dollars." But to survive as an organization, the Maine VLA needs a financial "angel of some type," the Maine native admits.
If enough funding is obtained, the group can continue to offer legal advice for a mere $35 (or $85, if the request comes from an arts organization as opposed to an individual) a pop, in addition to educational seminars (one coming up this fall is called "The Artist's Checkbook") and networking opportunities. Callanan hopes to collaborate as much as possible with related organizations in the area, including the Portland Music Foundation, the Portland Arts and Cultural Alliance, and the Maine Arts Commission.
Maine Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts | mainevla.org