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Legal Happenings

Spotlighting Organizations That Support the Legal Needs of Artists

May 10, 2024

By Jeremy Conrad

A decade ago, Anacostia-based light artist Craig Kraft was involved in a dispute with a photographer he hired toWALA Executive Director John Good take pictures of graffiti inside the Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi.

When Kraft later produced neon artworks that incorporated the photos, the photographer accused Kraft of plagiarism and made defamatory statements about him. Kraft sought assistance from Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts (WALA), which connected him with a volunteer attorney who was successful in settling the matter in court.

“There are times when you do feel that the legal system is beyond your reach,” Kraft said. “To have that seed planted, that there was a lawyer organization for the arts, was unbelievable. It was like a ray of hope.”

Kraft was featured in a video shown at an event cohosted by the D.C. Bar Intellectual Property Law Community and Arts, Entertainment, Media, and Sports Law Community on April 26. Members of both Communities, law students, representatives from WALA, and local artists mingled over refreshments and made buttons at an arts and crafts station while a DJ played a lively set.

Addressing the crowd, D.C. Bar Communities Director Pamela Robinson pointed out the wide variety of Communities dedicated to numerous practice areas and special interests, while representatives from the co-hosting Communities gave a brief overview of some of their ongoing activities, spotlighting events that were relevant to the overlapping interests of the two groups.

WALA Executive Director John Good (pictured above) then shared a presentation on the organization’s efforts to assist artists in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia. WALA is a nonprofit organization established in 1983 by a group of attorneys and artists interested in serving the legal needs of the D.C. area’s arts community.

“Our mission is to provide access to education, advocacy, and legal services,” Good said, noting that the organization offers a variety of workshops and seminars addressing legal issues commonly confronted by artists and arts organizations, as well as legal clinics and full representation. The organization represents artists in more than 100 matters annually, on average, Good said.

Good gave a pitch for volunteering for WALA or supporting the organization financially through donations. “Volunteers are the heart and soul of WALA,” Good said. “They’re our greatest asset, but you have to look at the exponential growth, and an investment in WALA is an investment in our community, our creativity, and our culture.”

The organization’s workshops and training sessions cover topics such as intellectual property rights, tax law, incorporation, grants and licensing, negotiation skills, and copyright as it relates to generative AI. “People get a lot out of those workshops,” Good said. “They then know how to move ahead and monetize their work so they can continue to create.”

WALA also maintains an art collection, currently on display at the University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law. The collection, composed of works donated to the organization by former clients, is rotated for display among the area law schools and will next move to American University.

Attendees also heard from Jayme Epstein, volunteer coordinator for Justice Arts Coalition, a program supporting incarcerated artists and writers. The organization maintains contact with more than 700 incarcerated individuals, gathering and displaying their work online and in public exhibitions.

“All of this is with the mission of weaving connections between the prison walls and the outside,” Epstein said, stressing the importance of artists having a platform for the enjoyment of their work, and its potential to erode stereotypical notions regarding the incarcerated.

Volunteers write letters in response to artwork received by the organization. “We could [sometimes] use some legal help for those artists,” Epstein said. Additional information is available at the organization’s website, thejusticeartscoalition.org.