WYWH: Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts’ Event “Galleries 101 – Law for Visual Artists” (DC)

By Elena Kravtsoff, Esq.*

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In the middle of summer, on July 21, 2015, Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts’ (WALA) Visual Arts Subcommittee hosted “Galleries 101 – Law for Visual Artists,” at the Hamiltonian Gallery. WALA is a non-profit organization that supports the artistic community in the DC area by offering continued education, advocacy and legal services. The Hamiltonian Gallery, in addition to its exhibition space, boasts programs dedicated to the advancement of careers of emerging artists. Incidentally, this Gallery hosted a Center for Art Law event in DC in 2014.

The event in July, with an equal number of artists and of lawyers as guest speakers, was open to the general public and attracted many WALA members and Hamiltonian affiliates. The panelists included Cynthia Gayton, founder of the Arlington-based law firm Gayton Law, who is also experienced in the gallery business; Missy Loewe, attorney by training who is the CEO and president of Washington ArtWorks, a Maryland organization that offers classes, workshops, exhibits, and outreach programs that benefit local artists; as well as two DC-area visual artists, Luis Peralta and Jay Coleman.

“Galleries 101” panelists addressed a variety of topics pertinent to artists who already display or plan to show their art in galleries, each contributing their own unique perspective. Gayton kicked-off the event by discussing common issues arising in contracts between artists and galleries. She started by covering the basics of contract law and then focused on issues pertaining  to artists, for example, encouraging artists to ensure that galleries agree to market the artists and promote their work. Gayton then addressed the legalities of photographing works of art on display, and the subsequent use of those images by artists and galleries, also touching on the ever-elusive fair use. Loewe instructed artists on the importance of documenting and keeping records of their art, such as when it was made, the price, and its location, in order to be protected should the art be stolen or should a gallery fail to pay an artist for a sale.  

The presentations given by the visual artists were practical and drew from the artists’ personal experience of working and negotiating with galleries and other spaces that displayed their art. Peralta spoke of his partnering with a gallery and taking a more active part in the promotion of his art and his brand. He emphasized that artists must be business-minded and have the mind-set of entrepreneurs. Coleman relayed his experience of displaying his art is places other than galleries—such as cafes—and associated upsides and pitfalls. He encouraged artists to educate themselves and always come prepared to a negotiation with a space that will be displaying their work.  

Following the event, Gayton observed that the “panel selection was great,” and that she was impressed with “how positive and helpful everyone was.” Gayton, a long time volunteer with WALA and a regular presenter, observed that “[t]his audience, in particular, were knowledgeable about the issues and had substantive questions.” Loewe opined that the location and set-up of the event were “terrific,” and that her fellow presenters were “very friendly and extremely well-versed in their topics areas.” As to the audience, Loewe found that “[t]he reaction to the presentation and the questions asked during and after showed this is a community of people hungry for information, knowledge, and eager to ‘do right’ and listen and learn from others.” Peralta said that he enjoyed sharing his experiences as an artist and entrepreneur, as well as his philosophy that “artists should view themselves and operate as a business.” Peralta was also glad to learn from his fellow panelists, and recommended that DC-area artists take advantage of the workshops and attorney resources that WALA provides.

WALA’s biannual Creative Entrepreneurship Series, which consists of six workshops on topics relevant to artists, including intellectual property law, tax strategies, and negotiation strategies, takes place in September and October. Anyone who is interested in attending this series as well as WALA’s other educational events should visit http://www.waladc.org in order to stay up to date and become involved with the organization.

About the Author: Elena Kravtsoff is an attorney based in Washington, DC. She is a volunteer with the Washington Area Lawyers for the Arts’ (WALA) Education Committee. She may be reached at elena.kravtsoff@gmail.com.

Disclaimer: This article is intended as general information, not legal advice, and is no substitute for seeking representation.

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