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Elevator Chat Adam Holofcener, Executive Director Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts

Elevator Chat Adam Holofcener, Executive Director Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts

February 02, 2016Arts Across Maryland

Adam Holofcener is the executive director of the non-profit Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (MdVLA). Years earlier as a law student, he interned at MdVLA with the former director Marcia Semmes.

An eclectic musician, DJ, and guitarist, Holofcener understands the legal questions artists face while making a living. Since September 2014, he has headed up the organization. As executive director, he organizes a network of 40 volunteer lawyers donating their time specifically to help artists, artist organizations, and non-profits. He also launched outreach programs, seminars, and clinics for artists.

Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, which won City Paper’s “Best Lawyers for Artists,” in the 2015 Best of Baltimore issue, has become an invaluable resource for the arts community. MdVLA has helped Maryland artists with legal issues since 1985, providing pro bono legal services and education to income-eligible artists and arts organizations in Maryland. To qualify, individual artists must make less than 40k per year in household income, and arts organizations must have an operating budget of less than 150K.

Since the invention of the Internet, there is a greater need for lawyers to help artists protect their online creative works and profits. They focus on copyright infringement for visual, performing and other artists as well as opportunities for licensing and new revenue streams for all creators. 

MSAC: How and why, was MdVLA started in 1985?

Adam Holofcener: A core group of Maryland attorneys, some of whom were artists themselves, decided to fill a gap: the lack of legal services available to artists. Other legal aid organizations do not provide the type of assistance needed by artists to help with their livelihood and creative pursuits. 

However, there was no mechanism to pair lawyers interested in doing pro bono legal work for artists in need. The lawyers who started Maryland Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts (called Maryland Lawyers for the Arts at its inception) were able to form that bridge between the legal and arts communities.

MSAC: What are the backgrounds of the lawyers and do they all deal with copyright issues?

Adam Holofcener: MdVLA has a variety of volunteer attorneys. While each artist has to grapple with copyright because every expression he/she creates may automatically receive some protection, the legal issues an artist experiences throughout a career are vast.  An artist may need a corporate or business lawyer to form an LLC or Non-Profit. 

Many types of attorneys assist with contractual issues and disputes of all shapes and sizes.  A tax attorney assists if something has gone wrong with accounting.  An artist may need a lawyer familiar with real estate to resolve issues with their lease for studio space or a performance venue.  If an artist hires employees or independent contractors to assist with work, he/she may need an employment attorney. In addition, trusts and estate attorneys help draw up a will ensuring copyrights are administered as you would like.


MSAC: Do you just handle arts-related issues?  What are some examples of cases?

Adam Holofcener: MdVLA provides pro bono attorney referrals for legal issues related to an artists’ livelihood.  Many issues are falling into that category or, at least, more than just registering copyrights.  We assist artists who participate in all modes of expression, not just visual artists.  You can be a musician, actor, dancer, sculptor, writer, photographer, designer, puppeteer, and almost everywhere in between. 

Recent cases we have referred include resolving a breach of contract case for a jewelry designer, helping a musical ensemble review the by-laws for their tax-exempt, non-profit organization, and registering a trademark for a filmmaker and performance artist. We reviewed and drafted a contract for a hip-hop musician, assisted photographers in determining how privacy laws affect where/what they can shoot, and helped a small theater company review its lease. 

MSAC: What can an artist learn at MdVLA’s Art Law Clinics and seminars?  Is there any cost for clinics?

Adam Holofcener: At our Art Law Clinics, artists can receive a 30-minute consultation with an attorney to discuss their short-form legal issue and receive feedback on legal issues that they may not know. This is a great place for an artist who is interested in professionalizing their practice or getting basic questions answered: Do I need to form a business entity? Should I register copyrights with the U.S. Copyright Office?  What do the terms mean on commission contracts?

Clinic sessions are $5. However, some clinics receive sponsorship, and those are free. The next clinic is February 20 from 1 to 4 pm at The Contemporary (1S 429 N. Eutaw St., Baltimore, MD 21201). Artists can make an appointment via Rachel Park, Art Law Clinic Coordinator, at  Registration is required, as slots book early.

MdVLA also offers seminars and workshops on legal issues relevant to artists, focusing on different types of artists, regions of Maryland, or specific legal issues. A signature program is the free “Mind Your Business,” a half-day series of seminars teaching artists about copyright, business entities, insurance, banking, and other small business issues. This program is in collaboration with Maryland Citizens for the Arts, PNC Bank, MSAC and county arts councils. Read more.