Ask the (virtual) Art Lawyer

The Matisse Foundation has made a $20,000 donation to Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts [VLA], for its new art law website, Ask the Lawyer.

The Matisse Foundation was created by the widow of Pierre Matisse, a successful New York art dealer and the son of painter Henri. Since its inception in 1995, the Foundation has focused its donations in the art community and has aimed “to foster excellence in all aspects of art appreciation.” An on-line legal resource seems to be an unlikely donee. However, lawyer’s services are integral to the art market, and the accessibility of these services is a major issue for artists.

Art is rarely perceived as being ‘tainted’ by law, except in sexy areas like copyright infringement and restitution of cultural property. However, real artists do need help with more mundane issues, such as filing for non-profit status, leasing studio space, negotiating contracts, consigning works to galleries, and licensing media. Ask the Lawyer provides information on a variety of these practical topics. The site “grows out of VLA’s experience in speaking with, and helping, thousands and thousands of arts community members over the past 40 years and is an extension of VLA’s call center, the Artlaw Line.

On the one hand, an online service gives artists access to vital information. On the other hand, delivery of legal information in this manner raises concerns, and the site is prefaced by a hefty set of terms and conditions. Should artists who use the site feel confident in independently making fair use assessments or in negotiating contracts with parties that might have an unfair advantage? Of course artists should not be foolishly emboldened, but such democratic platforms do equip them with powerful tools.

“They are serving a community that is very anxious to get these services,” says Robert H. Horowitz, president of the Matisse Foundation. Easier access to these services provides more time and flexibility for the important stuff, the art itself. It will be interesting to see how the artistic community will be empowered and how the art market will be changed by these new mechanisms that are being developed by lawyers and artists together.

Read the article at the Wall Street Journal

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