California Lawyers for the Arts: Advocates for the Creative Community

Photo Courtesy of California Lawyers for the Arts.

California Lawyers for the Arts: Advocates for the Creative Community

By Genie Davis


California Lawyers for the Arts has advocated for the creative community for forty years. The non-profit, statewide organization was founded in 1974 specifically to provide legal services of all kinds to artists and members of the creative arts community.

According to Rebecca Ruschell, associate director for California Lawyers for the Arts and Program Director for the Arts and Community Mediation Services, the non-profit, statewide organization was founded in 1974 when the Bay Area Lawyers for the Arts joined forces with Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts-Los Angeles to shape a statewide organization. CLA is part of an informal network of “Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts” programs that serve artists through state-based organizations throughout the United States.

The CLA has a number of different programs under its umbrella, including Arts Advocacy, Arts Arbitration and Mediation Services, and Arts & Community Development – which sponsors Spotlight on the Arts, a comprehensive workforce development program for low-income high school students 14 to 17. CLA also offers the regional California Inventors Assistance Program to assist with legal patent issues, the International Arts Travel Program, a Lawyer Referral Service that matches creative artists with attorneys throughout California, the Sacramento Mediation Center, and the Youth Mediation in Schools program which teaches middle school students productive and peaceful ways to resolve conflicts.

Impressed yet? Ruschell notes that California Lawyers for the Arts also conducts the Annual Artistic License Awards, and is holding its 10th such event May 21st in Santa Monica. “CLA recognizes individuals and organizations who have had an extraordinary impact on our communities by inspiring participation and increasing support for California arts,” she says. This year, the awards ceremony will honor Congressman Ted Lieu, actress Annette Bening, Self Help Graphics & Art, and E. Randol Schoenberg, attorney and genealogist.

Photo Courtesy of California Lawyers for the Arts.

CLA’s executive director, Alma Robinson, describes award recipients as “leaders whose acts of generosity and examples of innovation have inspired so many others to stretch beyond their ‘comfort zones’ and take on the challenges of our times. Each of our four honorees have stretched to make a significant contribution to the culture of California:”

Along with its strong advocacy services and the Annual Artistic License Awards, the CLA also supports an Arts in the Prisons program, which serves as a vital component of rehabilitation.

Starting with a pilot project in 2014, the state’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation contracted with the California Arts Council to provide arts programs in prisons throughout California.

“Previous evidence-based research documented that inmates engaged in arts programs are less likely to be involved in disciplinary incidents and to re-offend after release,” Ruschell relates. “With funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council and several private foundations, CLA worked with the William James Association and Dr. Larry Brewster of the University of San Francisco to produce new evidence-based research documenting how arts programs benefit incarcerated persons. Demonstration projects in both state prisons and county jails have shown that arts programs improve the participants’ confidence, communication skills and emotional control, while resulting in better relations with other inmates and staff.” Ruschell adds that program participants were also shown to have “better time management skills, achievement motivation, intellectual flexibility, active initiative and self-confidence as well as a reduction in disciplinary reports. Significantly, many respondents indicated an interest in pursuing other academic and vocational programs.”

CLA is now conducting a multi-year demonstration project in county jails throughout California, as well as showcasing the arts as a significant resource for rehabilitation during a series of national conferences funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council and several private foundations. In June 2017, CLA will present Arts in Corrections:  Building Bridges to the Future in collaboration with the William James Association and Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “This conference will bring together artists, educators and arts administrators from around the United States to participate in five days of professional development activities, including sequential classes with master artists,” Ruschell states.

The CLA also provides a wide array of workshops to assist and educate artists.

“In the past, we have provided workshops on Legal Basics for Creative Businesses; The Economics of Music in the Digital Era; The FAQs of Film Distribution; How to Form a California Corporation for Your Creative Business; Art World 2016: Bankruptcy, Art Consignment, and Resale; Theaters and the Law; Trademarks for Artists and Creative Entrepreneurs; Copyright Violation vs. Free Expression; Online Streaming; Copyright for Visual Artists; Photography and the Law; Fashion Law; and many, many more,” Ruschell explains.

For information on current workshop offerings, visit:

In short, The California Lawyers for the Arts not only serves as an inclusive go-to for legal advocacy, it also offers educational workshops, a prison rehabilitation program, and an annual awards program. Comprehensively, the CLA supports all aspects of the creative arts in California, making the golden state just a little bit more golden for artists.

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