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Faculty of Law launches new Manitoba Legal Clinic for the Arts

Law Students help artists and creatives in Manitoba

November 3, 2023 — 

The University of Manitoba Faculty of Law has launched a new Manitoba Legal Clinic for the Arts. The Clinic offers free legal advice and information specifically designed for artists, creatives, and arts and cultural organizations in Manitoba, including Northern communities, who do not have a lawyer or cannot afford legal assistance. Clients can receive information pertaining to contracts, intellectual property, sale of goods, information on business structures, technology, and more.

The Clinic is operated by law students at the University of Manitoba Faculty of Law, who provide legal help under the supervision of experienced lawyers. This year, there are a total of 25 students participating in the Clinic.

Creatives, artists, makers, and arts organizations can apply to receive free legal services by filling out the Clinic’s secure online intake form here.

Artists, creatives, arts and cultural organizations in Manitoba are an underserved and underrepresented community requiring greater access to legal services to support themselves and their creative aspirations.

According to the 2020 Needs Assessment Report by the National Network of Legal Clinics for the Arts, 94 per cent of artists found that they face unique legal needs, 90 per cent of those in the arts communities found inadequate access to legal supports, and just over 80 per cent of arts organizations did not have the necessary access to legal resources to support their own members.

Manitoba has a significant arts sector. According to recent 2023 Hill Strategies report conducted for the Manitoba Arts Council based on the 2021 census there are 5,200 professional artists in Manitoba. Manitoba has the highest proportion of Indigenous artists among the provinces. In Manitoba, one in every 140 workers is an artist. Over one-half of artists in Manitoba are women, and 63 percent of all Manitoba artists are self-employed. Median personal income is 42% lower than other Manitoba workers. The median employment income of Manitoba artists was just $10,100 in 2020, which is about one-quarter of the median employment income of all Manitoba workers ($38,400).

At the same time, in Manitoba, there are a small number of lawyers who practice intellectual property and who have a focus on the intersecting streams of law and art. Hence, the necessity to form an arts clinic that provides tailored services is essential for our province—a geographical arena with a thriving arts industry.

John Myers [JD/1990)], a Partner at Taylor McCaffrey LLP, has a wealth of experience supporting the arts in Canada. He emphasizes the importance of the required expertise in providing legal information to artists and creatives.

“In my experience, ‘creatives’ need a basic understanding of how to protect their works through the use of copyright registrations, trademarks, patents, non-disclosure agreements, and understanding the role of Collective Rights Societies,” says Myers.

“And then they need an understanding of how to commercialize what they have created if that is the route they want to pursue.”

The purpose behind developing a clinic to help those in the arts community is to help address this gap. According to Myers, the relationship between the arts community and the law is not a new one.

“Having a new Legal Clinic for the Arts is a way to fulfill an unmet need. Members of the private bar have been providing both pro bono and paid services to the arts community dealing with specific issues and serving on Arts Boards for decades,” says Myers. “Having a clinic devoted to serving members of the Arts Community will be very helpful.”

Recently, the Manitoba Legal Clinic for the Arts shared its new website with local arts communities. The website showcases the Clinic’s mission, vision, and purpose, along with the fabulous logo created by one of Manitoba’s award-winning graphic artists, Roberta Landreth.

Manitoba Legal Clinic for the Arts logo

In creating the logo, Roberta shared her inspiration for the symbol representing the Clinic.

“A visual identity and logo are outward expressions of the personality and energy of the brand they represent. Manitoba Legal Clinic for the Art’s mission is to grow and champion sustainable and successful careers in the arts, which is of mutual benefit to the students studying law at the University of Manitoba,” says Landreth.

The logo showcases the reciprocal relationship between students studying law and the creatives who exist in Manitoba. According to Landreth, this is displayed in the colours and the shape of the logo.

“It shows the two interacting to create a wheel, a dynamic, and mutually beneficial relationship that serves both groups.”

An artist herself, Landreth emphasizes the great need for free legal assistance to artists and creators in the province.

“As an artist, having access to an individual who understands law and can answer questions with solid legal advice is invaluable. I know that for musicians, authors, and other creatives, navigating contracts and other legal documents can feel overwhelming. Having someone sort through these things without the hefty price tag is a welcome service.”

Kara Joseph [BMus/2019], Trainings Program Manager at Creative Manitoba, highlights the reality of artists in navigating the legal system, especially in relation to their creative projects and works.

“As self-employed and contract workers, artists are often left without the necessary supports and resources to ensure stability and security in their work. The creative industry has many unique facets that make working in the arts exciting, but also challenging in many ways.”

Joseph emphasizes the necessity for artists to understand how to exercise their own individual rights, which is an issue that the Clinic aims to address.

“Artists across Manitoba would benefit greatly from legal advice and support, but they lack the resources to access them. Manitoba Legal Clinic for the Arts breaks down this major barrier. This initiative will support artists, educating them on a myriad of legal issues that will only help these individuals better advocate for themselves and their work,” says Joseph.

Art in Manitoba is everywhere. It is abundant in all pockets of the province and the gap in access to legal assistance to arts communities is evident. These communities have sustained tremendous negative impact, especially during and after the global pandemic, according to Brendan McKeen [BMus/2008], Chairperson of the Manitobans for the Arts.

“The pandemic exposed how vulnerable independent artists are across Canada. The simple act of asking legal questions will inform artists of their rights and protections. This will lead to a healthier sector while the community will reap the benefits,” says McKeen.

Randy Joynt, Executive Director of the Manitoba Arts Council shares his insight towards the new Arts Clinic initiative.

“The Manitoba Legal Clinic for the Arts will be an indispensable resource for the arts and culture sector in Manitoba. Having a clinic dedicated to providing free legal information to artists, cultural workers, and arts/cultural organizations will be a great help in navigating the often complex framework of doing business in the arts,” says Joynt.

The Manitoba Legal Clinic for the Arts provides free legal resources to artists and makers in all of Manitoba, including Northern Manitoba. In Northern Manitoba alone, there is an abundance of artists and makers in need of support and legal assistance.

According to the 2022 survey “Artists and Arts Organizations in Northern Manitoba: A Baseline Study,” there were a total of 63 First Nations and 5 linguistic groups who identified as artists in the North. 282 artists were identified across Northern Manitoba and across various arts and creative disciplines. A total of 27 arts organizations with 123 employees were devoted to a form of artistic work. 75 per cent of this population identified as Indigenous.

In terms of the type of arts disciplines that were reported, 76 per cent engaged in visual arts and crafts, 19 per cent engaged in music, and 12 per cent performed literature and writing.

The study also found that relatively few artists and makers earn an income from their work. Most artists and creatives see their work in the form of a hobby (66 per cent) while only a small amount create works as a business.

Dr. Richard Jochelson, Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Manitoba, emphasized the impact of providing legal services to Indigenous communities in the province.

“I firmly believe that the establishment of the Manitoba Legal Clinic for the Arts marks a pivotal moment in our ongoing commitment to fostering a culture of Truth and Reconciliation with Indigenous communities, while also recognizing the intrinsic value of the arts in our society,” says Jochelson. “This initiative not only signifies our dedication to supporting and empowering artists and cultural workers but also aligns with the principles of equity and justice.”

Recently, a focus on providing support to arts and culture communities has been initiated by groups in Northern Manitoba eager to emphasize and connect hubs of creatives in Northern Manitoba and provide common supports to creatives in northern communities.

Crystal Kolt O.M., [BMus/1984]  Director of Culture and Community Initiatives for the City of Flin Flon, emphasized the great need for free legal services especially to those who reside in Northern Manitoba.

“Having lived in Northern Manitoba for over 25 years I have seen first-hand the extraordinary talent of creatives living North of the 54th parallel. I have also noted the lack or limited resources available to support our northern arts and cultural community,” says Kolt.

“Free legal services provided by the Manitoba Legal Clinic for the Arts will be a game changer for both the imagiNorthern project and all of members in the Northern Manitoban arts and cultural sector that are seeking the tools and supports to further develop their professional careers and ambitions.”

Joy Loewen, Chief Executive Officer of National Screen Institute headquartered in Winnipeg,  shared her hope towards the Clinic’s impact and its anticipated mark on the creative community in the province.

“As someone with 30 years experience working with media screen professionals to develop stories for the screen, I know the struggles creators face understanding contracts, knowing what agreements are needed and negotiating rights. Having access to legal advice through a pro bono clinic is a service many in our community will find useful, valuable, and affordable.”

When asked what she hopes the Clinic can achieve, Loewen emphasized the Clinic’s impact to influence more artists to lean into their creative works and to generate more creativity in our communities.

“I’m hopeful Manitoba artists will feel more confident to create and distribute their art knowing their rights are protected. I’d take it a step further and hope that the number of artists across the province will increase because the services the clinic provides allows more artists to be compensated as professionals and enjoy full time careers doing work that love,” says Loewen.

The Clinic is most certainly a step closer to providing access to justice for certain groups in our communities, but it is also an opportunity for law students to receive practical experience.

Kassandra Taverner [BSc/2020; JD Candidate 2025], artist and second-year law student at the University of Manitoba, Faculty of Law, expressed her excitement and described how this initiative can benefit both the arts community and law students.

“This clinic is at the intersection of two of my passions and I couldn’t be more delighted to be part of the initiative. As an artist myself, I recognize and have experienced the unmet legal needs of artists,” says Taverner.

“Most artists do not know how to tackle the legal side of being an artist and cannot afford a lawyer. I believe this initiative can help a lot of people answer important legal questions, and much more. At the same time, law students like myself, will gain invaluable practical legal experiential learning.”

The Manitoba Legal Clinic for the Arts is generously funded by the Manitoba Law Foundation that provided a small project grant to get the Clinic started in its inaugural year. The Manitoba Legal Clinic for the Arts invites members of the Manitoba Bar to join in on this exciting initiative. Practicing lawyers interested in the Arts and eager to work with law students to serve Manitoba’s arts community, may visit the Clinic website and fill out a volunteer intake form or click here to get involved in helping artists, creatives, arts and cultural organizations.

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