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  • Wednesday, March 25, 2015 9:03 AM | Alma Robinson (Administrator)

    In Austin last week at South by Southwest, an overwhelming concern during the four day music conclave was: Will musicians be able to pay the rent in the digital age? Now that the gilded era of record company contracts is winding down and physical albums and CDs are losing market share, how are artists going to make a living from downloading and streaming services?

    More than once, it was pointed out that the music industry is starting to mirror the income disparities that are plaguing our entire society. It is estimated that fewer than 20% of working musicians earn more than 80% of the income. 

    Speakers during the SXSW music conference poured out advice: Continue to do live performances. Engage your fans through social media. ("It's incredibly stressful," commented one rising star.) if you can, get hooked up with a brand, and if you're born with the right parents or lucky enough to get a generous patron, let them subsidize you.

    The digital age has upset old paradigms in many sectors. On a panel titled "The Celebrity Economy in Music,"  Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman said that his employer is also trying to figure it out. "The New York Times," he observed, 'has become a platform for luxury goods wrapped up in a little bit of news."

    Some other gems:

    Peter Koppes, long-time guitarist for the Australian rock band, the Church, thanked an unnamed benefactor from Austin who had given the band over $1 million over the past 20 years so that they could keep producing albums and performing.   

    Prior to a concert, Raquel Sofia posts photos of herself in different outfits, asking her fans which dress she should wear on stage.  

    During a panel on Copyrights in the Digital Era, Jacqueline Charlesworth, General Counsel of the US Copyright Office, talked about the challenge of "tagging" music electronically so that copyright owners can find out who is using their work. She lamented that the Copyright Office itself, which is still dealing with paper forms in some areas, needs a better IT structure. Government, she said, may be able to help by providing incentives for data standardization. Her recent report on music licensing was frequently cited during the conference.

    Jacqueline mentioned that the Copyright Office has long favored requiring "terrestrial radio" to pay royalties to rights holders, an exemption that has been in place since the '70s. The lack of reciprocity in the US also prevents radio royalties from being paid internationally.  (Visual artists similarly miss out on resale royalties when their works are resold abroad, because there is no federal legislation in the US. Only California provides resale royalties for visual artists--a law that is being tested now in the federal courts.)  

    Erik Metzger, a board member of both California Lawyers for the Arts and Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts, facilitated two panels for musicians and filmmakers describing pro bono legal services provided by CLA, TALA and Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts, based in New York. As the conference days wound down, Erik, VLA Executive Director Katie Wagner and I cooled down at receptions put on by TESLAW, the Entertainment and Sports Law Section of the Texas State Bar, the Copyright Alliance and Lommen Abdo, a law firm based in Minnesota that played a prominent role in the continuing legal education track.

    Of course, with an estimated 2,000 bands competing for attention at showcases and venues all over town, there were also plenty of opportunities to find personal inspiration in the music.  

    Graham Reynolds, who has made his mark composing and music in multiple genres for different audiences, surprised me with an old Duke Ellington hit, Caravan, that he played at the Elephant Room. Imagine that Duke Ellington, a cousin on my maternal grandmother's side, is still resounding after all these years! Graham's sassy, pulsing rendition of Ellington's 1937 hit symbolized my entire South By experience.

    And then there was the cerebral Peter Koppes from the Church and his family, who sat with me during lunch just prior to his band's interview with David Fricke of Rolling Stone.  Peter, who has taught classes about the music business, explained that six -- not two -- emotions can be found in minor chords. He was very familiar with our sister organization, the Arts Law Centre of Australia.

    Later that evening, I was curious enough to see the Church perform at Buffalo Billiards.  As promised in their interview, they amped up their music with plenty of reverb.  Now approaching their 60's, these rockers continue to drive the beast.

    Life is short, but art is long.

    Alma Robinson, Executive Director
    California Lawyers for the Arts    

  • Wednesday, February 25, 2015 10:07 AM | Alma Robinson (Administrator)

    In the fall of 2013, two African-American high school students in CLA's Spotlight on the Arts internship program were subjected to harassment by San Francisco police. The video that tells their story, What If This happened to Youis particularly timely in the light of current discussions about police/community relations and racial profiling. 

    Jameisha, an intern in a photography program, was stopped by the police and questioned about the 35 mm camera she was wearing around her neck. She was walking to a Spotlight workshop for students in our year-round program. 

    Omari, a graphic arts intern, was on his way home from school when he was removed from a bus and handcuffed for a fare violation. Would the police intervention have been different if Omari was white? Typically MUNI officers issue citations for such violations.  

    In a recent article in the New York Times, Ian Ayres, a law professor at Yale, describes a study about "discretionary accommodations" that showed statistically meaningful differences in the treatment of white and black bus riders:  "Bus drivers were twice as willing to let white testers ride free as black testers (72 percent versus 36 percent of the time).” 

    When two out of seven teens in our program experienced racial profiling within a week, it got the attention of our staff, Senior Program Manager Jill Roisen and Shana Lancaster, then Program Director. Of the 30 participants in the summer program, we annually extend invitations to up to 10 students to continue their internships during the school year.  The students who are invited back are selected because of their good attitudes and work habits.  They often continue to work for the same employers, expanding their skills and deepening their relationships with their supervisors and with our program staff, who hold monthly workshops with them.

    Jameisha was continuing her internship at Intersection for the Arts with a photography program, First Exposures, which had exhibited her photos. Omari was working at the Mission Cultural Center of Latino Arts. When they described their interactions with the police at a Spotlight workshop, the group decided to focus on advocacy and asked to speak with a civil rights attorney.  

    They also decided to make a video to document their experiences, learning interviewing techniques and production skills as part of the process.  The video includes recommendations provided by Chris Bridges, a Racial Justice Project Fellow at the ACLU, about how anyone should respond if stopped and questioned by the police.

    What If This Happened to You? was shown to a group of youth and police at a forum presented by the Bernal Heights Neighborhood AssociationCraig D. Wilson, an African-American police officer, said he was shocked that "this is still happening in San Francisco today." He described a similar incident that happened to him when he was a teenager, and recommended that the video be shown during the police department's training academy.   

    Jennifer Eberhardt, a Stanford Professor of Psychology and recent recipient of a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Award," has worked with several police departments, presenting studies that "show what implicit bias is, and how it’s different from old-fashioned racism." Her empirical research about racial perceptions and biases was described in a recent interview in the New York Times: "I don’t think this alone can change behavior,” she said. “But it can help people become aware of the unconscious ways race operates. If you combine that with other things, there is hope."  

    Izza, one of our student producers, echoed this optimism when she described the purpose of the video: "We also hope that this film can start conversations at the higher level of the SFPD so they can improve the way they treat young people. We are concerned about the lack of respect as well as the violence that has occurred to us and around us, especially when it comes to young people of color.”

    And in any event, they have documented their concerns through a tangible means of expression -- that can be its own reward.

    Alma Robinson, Executive Director 
    California Lawyers for the Arts
     

  • Monday, January 12, 2015 5:56 PM | Alma Robinson (Administrator)

    To our Friends in Paris:

    We are sorry for the terror and grief you have experienced over the last few days. You have undergone an unbelievable assault on civilization and freedom. We mourn with you. We mourn the loss of the artists and journalists of Charlie Hebdo and their voices.   

    Charlie Hebdo, Before the Massacre, a short op-ed documentary published in the New York Times, shows the journal's unique brand of humor and satire while providing an inside view of a finely honed spirit of collaboration which we can all aspire to emulate.

    We stand with you in solidarity for the freedom of expression and respect for diversity of ideas which enrich our collective discourse and spark our creativity.  

    We know that you will continue to light our world.

    Alma Robinson, Executive Director
    California Lawyers for the Arts



  • Friday, December 05, 2014 5:25 PM | Alma Robinson (Administrator)


    The California Resale Royalty Act (CRRA), which is under attack in the federal courts, has received strong support from Attorney General Kamala Harris. California’s AG filed an amicus brief in November, urging the US Court of Appeal to reverse a District Court ruling that found Civil Code 986 unconstitutional on a dormant commerce clause theory.

    The CRRA was introduced by former State Sen. Alan Sieroty, who was honored for his advocacy on behalf of artists at our 2013 Artistic License Awards in Santa Monica. The statute, which CLA helped to draft, was passed by the state legislature and signed by Governor Edmund Brown in 1976. If a work of art is resold for at least $1,000, and for more than the seller paid for it, the seller is required to pay the artist a 5% resale royalty. California is the only state in the United States that has enacted such a royalty for visual artists.

    The California law, Civil Code Section 986, applies to original drawings, paintings, sculptures, and works of art in glass if the work is sold in California or the seller is a resident of California. In addition, the artist must be a California resident or a US citizen. Although the royalty can be assigned to a third party in writing, it cannot be waived by the artist except for a larger percentage. The royalty applies for 20 years after the artist’s death, providing a legacy for heirs and estates.

    Los Angeles attorney Eric George sued Sotheby’s, Christie’s and E-Bay in 2011, claiming unpaid royalties on behalf of Chuck Close, Laddie John Dill, the Sam Francis Foundation and the estate of Robert Graham. The defendants claimed the law was an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce. US District Court Judge Jacqueline Nguyen agreed, and dismissed the complaint on dormant commerce clause grounds.

    CLA’s amicus brief, which was prepared by attorneys Steven Hirsch and Katherine Lovett of the San Francisco law firm of Keker & Van Nest, and CLA Board Member Jack Davis, argued that such a significant constitutional issue should not be decided on a motion to dismiss. The defendants, we stated, needed to provide evidence of the administrative burden they claimed and show how it interferes with interstate commerce rather than relying on hypothetical arguments.

    The issue is now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal, which first heard oral arguments in April. Recently, the court announced that it would rehear the issues en banc on December 16 in order to consider two cases concerning the dormant commerce clause that were decided after Judge Nguyen’s dismissal of the CCRA case.

    The Attorney General’s brief argues that the CRRA does not prescribe the terms or conditions of any sale, but merely imposes financial obligations on California residents once a sale takes place. Furthermore, the brief states, “No facts have been developed that would show that any transactions at issue in the plaintiffs’ complaints do not take place at least partly in California.”

    A proposal for federal legislation, the American Royalties Too Act, was introduced earlier this year and is pending in Congress. The US Copyright Office, which opposed the resale royalty in its 1992 report on resale royalties, has since updated its research. In a second report issued in 2013, the Copyright Office reversed its previous position and now recommends the enactment of a federal resale royalty for visual artists. Because of a reciprocity requirement in the 1948 revision of the Berne Convention, American artists and their estates cannot obtain royalties from resales in foreign markets until we have a federal law, hence the name of the current proposal in Congress: “American Royalties Too.”

    The California law was modeled on the European droit de suite, which originated in 1920 in France, and is now in effect in more than 70 countries around the world as well as the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The law gives visual artists a future income stream similar to the royalties that artists working in other disciplines, such as music and literature, enjoy when their work is reproduced. 

    The en banc Court of Appeal may rule outright that the CRRA does not violate the U.S. Constitution.  Another possible outcome of the current California litigation is that the appellate court will remand the case to the District Court for evidentiary findings. In light of their compliance with similar laws in most major art markets around the world, the auction houses would have a hard time proving that their administrative duties under CCRA present an unconstitutional burden.


    Alma Robinson, Executive Director                                                                  

    California Lawyers for the Arts  


  • Wednesday, November 19, 2014 7:35 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)


    Recently, we celebrated the premiere of She Sings to the Stars at the American Indian Film Festival in San Francisco with a reception for the film's writer/director, Jennifer Corcoran, producer Jonathan Corcoran, and two of the three actors, Fannie Loretto and Jesus Mayorga.

    CLA provided attorneys who advised the producer about how to structure the limited liability corporation, as well as production contracts, releases, music licensing agreements, chain of title issues, and a private placement memorandum for investors. CLA's panel attorneys, Lindsay Spiller and Richard Lee, were acknowledged in the film's credits.

    The premiere provided a homecoming of sorts for the star of the film, Fannie Loretto, who had relocated with her family from a reservation in New Mexico to San Francisco in the 1950s under the US government's forced relocation and termination policy. She was just five years old when her family moved to San Francisco from Jemez Pueblo, New Mexico. They lived in a housing project near the present site of Candlestick Park in San Francisco's Hunters' Point neighborhood. After five years of experiencing the trauma of displacement, her mother found a way for the family to move back to their pueblo.

    Returning to San Francisco for the first time after 50 years, Fannie was nominated for a best actress award for her role as Mabel at the American Indian Film Festival, now in its 39th year.

    In the feature-length film, Mabel, a Native American grandmother, lives alone in the desert and inhabits a timeless world that her half-Hispanic grandson and an aging white magician discover as they reconnect after a disturbing encounter.

    Jennifer Corcoran, who wrote, directed and edited the film, described her creative process: “I first met Mabel, the grandmother character in the film, in a dream,” she recalled. “Mabel said, ‘It's time to sing the song. Listen. It will take you four years.’ I followed the clues, constructed three life-size, newspaper-stuffed dressed figures of the characters and listened to them whisper the bones of the story.”

    “The 21st Century finds us parched and hurried," she continued. "Mabel is not in a hurry; as a grandmother she is a container, the keeper of timelessness reflected by an expansive desert, an endless night sky. She holds the nurtured seeds for us to take forward, reminding us that we belong to something greater than our limited ideas of ourselves. Little seems to happen in her world, yet in this container of timelessness - now, and only now - anything is possible.”

    With Jennifer, a resident of Ballydehob ("the ford at the mouth of two rivers"), Ireland, and her brother Jonathan, who lives in Monkton, Vermont, anything, indeed, is possible…

    And as we like to say at CLA as we start our 40th year of legal services, educational programs and advocacy for the creative sector, "Your success is our success." Congratulations!

    Alma Robinson, Executive Director
    California Lawyers for the Arts

  • Thursday, May 01, 2014 9:31 AM | Alma Robinson (Administrator)
















    CLA Group at the Google Complex in Paris

    As we were preparing for our recent professional development program, Lights on Paris: Intellectual Property and Cultural Policies in the Digital Age, my colleague Bob Pimm recommended a new book, How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean. This sweeping review of the history of Paris' development as a unique cityscape with its stunning bridges, public squares, sweeping gardens and grand boulevards, also highlights the visionary leaders and city planners who, starting in the 17th century and continuing through successive generations, determined that Paris would be the most beautiful and admired city in the world.

    Consistent with the enhancements of a built environment devoted to beauty and public enjoyment, Paris also welcomed the infrastructure that would support culture, not only nationally, but globally. UNESCO, the international organization that supports cultural rights and world heritage preservation, is based in Paris, as well as CISAC, the umbrella organization that represents the interests of more than three million artists around the world, serving 227 authors' rights societies in 120 countries. 

    The legal framework supporting artists' rights was born in France. The world's first copyright law, which was enacted by the Constituent Assembly of France and ratified by King Louis XVI in 1791, stated: "The most sacred, the most unassailable and the most personal of all properties is the work, the result of the thought of the writer." 

    A generation later in 1829, the world's first organization established to collect artists' royalties, SACD, the Society of Dramatic Authors and Composers, was formed in Paris. Fast forward to the 20th Century: The resale royalty right for visual artists, enacted only by California in the US and currently the subject of contentious litigation in our federal courts, has been a right of French artists and their heirs since 1920.

    No wonder that Google chose to build the Google Cultural Institute, the showplace for its digitization of works of art, in Paris.  During our visit to the Institute, which is not open to the general public, we were indeed "wowed" by a digital rendering of the famous Marc Chagall painting which was hung from the ceiling of the Paris Opera in 1964.  The Google image, shown here, can be manipulated to show details that are not normally visible.  

    Upstairs, the Institute's first artists-in-residence were plowing their imaginations: Adriana Ramic is adapting Google Translates to the task of interpreting communication pathways between insects (yes, ants, for example), while Yousef Bushehri is designing portable pop-up structures that can be built with 3D printers for a variety of uses, such as displaying art in public spaces.    

    Later that afternoon, our group visited the Opera House at the Palais Garnier, where we strained to view the original Chagall canvas, installed more than 80 feet above the orchestra section. We were convinced that art lovers as well as art historians, conservators, and students will benefit from the detailed observations which Google has enabled through technology. Unseen by any outsiders, except through Google's camerawork, was a pool of water in the basement that, we learned during our tour at the Garnier, was installed as the response to a fire that burned down the previous opera house in 1873.

    Speakers at our seminars, which were held at Orrick's office in Paris, deftly described the latest developments in trademark, copyright and patent practice in France and the European Union. Corey Salsberg, Senior Legal Counsel at Novartis in Basel, Switzerland, discussed efforts to establish pro bono patent programs in developing countries. This project, which aims to assist low-income inventors, is similar to CLA's California Inventors Assistance Program.

    Gadi Oron, the General Counsel of CISAC, reported that global collections of royalties for authors of all genres totaled $11 billion during 2012. Representatives of SACEM, the French collecting society for musical artists, and ADAGP, which represents visual artists, as well as SACD, outlined changes in royalties collections in the various art disciplines. California Attorney Eric George spoke about current resale royalties litigation against international auction houses on behalf of California artists and estates.

    Our experts also included Judge Anne Elisabeth Crédeville from the French Court of Cassation, who represents the judiciary on the CSPLA, the Higher Council of Literary and Artistic Property. This committee was founded in 2000 to advise the French government on copyright matters during the development of internet and digital media.

    UNESCO Program Officer Rochelle Roca-Hachem described how various treaties and directives that protect cultural rights internationally are implemented.  She was followed by CLA's founding executive director, Hamish Sandison (now practicing law in London), who analyzed the relationship between international cultural rights and the rights of individual artists. 

    Patrick Hauss, European Regional Director of Corporation Service Company, informed us that the internet map is about to get more complicated. New sets of domain names based on cities, such as .Paris and .Berlin, as well as corporate brands, e.g. .Intra-Bank, and activities, for example, .sport are going to be authorized later this year by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. 

    A panel on fashion law described how luxury goods, many of which are based in Paris, defend their brands from counterfeiting. Consistent with artists' challenges in the U.S., jewelry designer Géraldine Valluet shared the difficulties that individual designers confront in protecting their work from knock-offs.

    Wrapping up our seminar program, efforts to defend against counterfeiting and internet fraud were described by speakers from Hermès, Google and U.S. Homeland Security,which plays a role in combating internet piracy while working with Interpol and other international agencies to return stolen art and artifacts to their countries of origin.

    It was challenging to follow up our Welcome Dinner in a private room at the Bistro Vivienne, which was sponsored by Novartis, but we certainly tried. At the Duc des Lombards, a legendary jazz club, we were enthusiastically acknowledged ("California Lawyers for the Arts is in the house!") by master guitarist Ed Cherry, whose resume includes work with Dizzy Gillespie, while we feasted on a four-course meal that featured Magret de Canard.

    And how do you end such a stimulating week of information and sensual delights? With a sip of Cognac, of course. For a very special last day in France, Moët Hennessy offered our travelers a tour of their facilities in Cognac, only a 2.5 hour rapid train ride from Paris to Angouleme in the Southwest.

    Following a seasonal lunch with roasted guinea fowl, hosted by Maurice Hennessy (shown here with Alma Robinson in a photograph by Benjamin Goldenberg) at the family estate, we ended the day with tours of the vineyards and secured facilities where 200-year old Cognac is stored in aged barrels. Consistent quality has been assured for two centuries by the Fillioux family, which has been at the head of the tasting and blending committee since the early 1800s, working right alongside the Hennessys for seven generations.
                
    Alma Robinson, Executive Director
    California Lawyers for the Arts





  • Tuesday, February 04, 2014 12:58 PM | Alma Robinson (Administrator)
    Just when the "liberal" arts in higher education began to look like a losing cause due to the stampede to Wall Street, we discovered a report on empirical research, published in the journal, Science, and reported in the New York Times, that shows that people who read literature are better able to discern the nuances of others' behavior and feelings, demonstrating more empathy for others. 

    And why is this important?  In these critical times, when growing income inequality threatens the promise of the American dream, a dose of empathy could remind us all that we are indeed our "brother's (and sister's) keeper."

    Consider the current political impasse in Washington, DC over a parcel of "women and family" issues:  affordable child care, early childhood education, minimum wage, unemployment insurance and paid sick leave.  These are things we would all want for ourselves and our families.  In a rational world is, the next question is, do we not also want these benefits for everyone, even for people who don't look like ourselves or think like we do? 

    How to get this menu of family-friendly benefits approved by a House divided is the number one question for our political leadership.  On Saturday, while they were celebrating a new stamp commemorating Rep. Shirley Chisholm at Mills College, US House Leader Nancy Pelosi joined Rep. Barbara Lee and Mills President Alecia DeCoudreaux in proclaiming that "When Women Succeed, America Succeeds." 

    Barbara Lee, who represents Oakland in Congress, spent years getting the US Postal Service to issue a commemorative stamp honoring Shirley Chisholm, the first African-American woman elected to Congress and the first woman candidate for president. Poignantly recalling how Chisholm inspired her to get involved in politics, Lee also shared how she had needed food stamps for her family when she was a student at Mills. Retired Rep. Lynn Woolsey of Petaluma told how her failed marriage resulted in enrolling her family in AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children, aka "welfare") in order to support her children.  

    These safety nets are under attack by people who evidently don't care enough about those who need help sustaining their families through hard times.   

    "It's about respect," declared Pelosi.

    And maybe, about the lack of empathy that the growing class divide exacerbates.  

    Shirley Chisholm had signed a poster with a challenge: "Help US advance."  When we learn to see all of our people as family, we might develop the essential empathy and desire to see all of US advance.

    And who is "us?'  There is a simple answer. Genealogical researchers are concluding that --  surprise --  many of us are related through family ties. We are all cousins to some degree -- removed or not.  We are all in this family together and we'd better start looking out for everybody.

    And in the meantime, for insurance, since reading literature helps develop deeper empathy for "the other,"  let's keep English classes on the list of required courses for all students, with a double dose prescribed for those studying business and political science.

    Alma Robinson, Executive Director
    California Lawyers for the Arts


  • Saturday, January 18, 2014 6:21 PM | Alma Robinson (Administrator)

    Before diving deeper into our challenges for the new year, we need to pay tribute to two generous souls, recently departed, who were significant in the development of California Lawyers for the Arts:

    Jerry Carlin, our founding president, who left a career managing legal services for poor people at the San Francisco Neighborhood Legal Assistance Foundation to become a professional artist, paused to create Bay Area Lawyers for the Arts with Hamish Sandison in 1974. Through BALA, Jerry created an organization that brilliantly married his passions of law and the arts. Sandison wrote that "Jerry did as much as anyone to ensure that artists and arts organizations in the Bay Area today are able to obtain...legal advice to support them in their careers--regardless of their ability to pay. In addition, he campaigned successfully through BALA for state legislation to protect artists in their dealings with galleries and to secure them a return on the resale of their works of art--then and now the first and only resale royalties legislation in the United States."

    In 1981, Jerry offered me the job of executive director of BALA. I had been hired the previous year to design and implement our national model program providing alternative dispute resolution services for the arts. Jerry continued to work with me in my new role and was hands on when we needed him. I recall one afternoon when we worked together on a grant proposal for the San Francisco Foundation. With sharpened pencils and clean erasers, he added up numbers for the budget while I worked on the narrative. By his example, he also encouraged me to value the relationships with BALA's initial funders, including the Gerbode Foundation and the California Arts Council as well as the San Francisco Foundation, beyond the transactional aspects of grant applications and reports. More recently, he and his wife, the noted actress and director Joy Carlin, arranged for us to meet with state Sen. Loni Hancock of Berkeley to discuss funding for the arts. Jerry passed on January 7, 2014. Until the end, he continued to be a champion for arts and justice, and was one of our most loyal donors. In our last conversation, Jerry was urging CLA to provide more estate planning services for artists in the twilight of their careers.

    Helen Major, who was an artist and development professional, helped craft our strategy to expand BALA from a regional organization serving the San Francisco Bay Area, to a statewide arts service organization. When we reached out to Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts-LA with our plan, I followed much of Helen's recipe. Starting with "Relax with Tax," we started offering workshops in Los Angeles in collaboration with VLA-LA. We then surveyed artists, which documented the need for our services and laid the foundation for philanthropic support. Meanwhile, the members of the VLA-LA board were being primed with conversations led by our common board member, Amy Neiman, an LA attorney who had been a law student intern at BALA. Finally, the board members of VLA-LA were invited to join the BALA board, led at that time by Stephen Camber, which had already agreed to change the name of the organization to California Lawyers for the Arts. As a result, we inherited several prominent board members, including California State Senator Diane Watson, who subsequently became a member of Congress; Richard Koshalek, then the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles; and Daniel Grover, a business affairs executive at Creative Artists Agency who had previously been a member of the staff of BALA.

    With our expanded board, we were in a position to obtain grants to deliver services to artists in the Los Angeles area. Early support for capacity building and programs from the California Community Foundation, the LA Cultural Affairs Department, the LA County Dispute Resolution Program and the James Irvine Foundation provided credibility as well as financial resources. We were on the way. Following Helen's common sense approach, we had avoided the complications and liabilities of a formal corporate merger. In my last visit with her just days before her death in October, she asked me how the organization was doing. She was particularly excited when I told her about our work with women in the San Francisco jail as part of our arts-in-corrections demonstration project. She immediately encouraged me to approach women's foundations in order to continue this project. Helen was the mother of San Francisco's third Poet Laureate, devorah major, who is also a CLA mediator, facilitator and consultant on program planning and evaluation.

    Both Helen and Jerry were artists who believed strongly in the mission of lawyers for the arts and inspired me to become excited about CLA's institutional development. The strength of their vision and their organizational sensibility, as well as their passion for justice, challenged me to find the way forward through the inevitable peaks and valleys of the non-profit arts landscape. With their energy and support, I always felt that our organization could be a more vital resource for meeting the changing needs of artists and the communities we serve. I miss their presence, but their lessons are very much alive in our work at California Lawyers for the Arts.

    Alma Robinson, Executive Director
    California Lawyers for the Arts


  • Wednesday, September 11, 2013 3:34 PM | Alma Robinson (Administrator)

    As part of our effort to demonstrate the power of the arts in rehabilitation, California Lawyers for the Arts is working with the William James Association to provide arts classes in county jails and state prisons.  In August, with the support of San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, we started a new gospel music choir for women at the SF County Jail. Leah Garchik wrote about the class in her column on culture and politics in the SF Chronicle.     

    While the choral singing is led by Emma Jean Foster, who facilitates a group in "Healing Thru Negro Spirituals" at Glide Memorial Church, I provide conflict resolution and communications skill-building exercises drawn from our mediation program. Larry Brewster, Professor of Public Administration at the University of San Francisco, is administering "pre and post" surveys designed to evaluate the effectiveness of the arts-in-corrections project.

    At the end of one recent class, I complimented the group on their impressive growth in listening skills and their ability to pay attention during our 3 and 1/2 weeks together. I asked the group to reflect on what they were taking away from the workshop.  Our soloist responded, "Team work--we're all making suggestions and no one is putting anyone down."  I reminded them of our "yes/and" versus "yes/but" exercise from a couple of weeks ago.  Another participant said she had learned that it was okay to make a mistake.  I responded that we all make mistakes.  (Our musical form is gospel, i.e., "call and response"--right?)  

    Another singer said she felt so much support from the group, that "we have each other's backs and look out for each other."  Another said they can sense when something is wrong with one of their mates, and we discussed how to be supportive, to help each other stay off the "edge."   A woman who had, at the beginning the class, shared a conflict that she's having with a staff member, said that she was going to take away the simple chart that I'd handed out at the beginning -- "win/win"   "win/lose"  "lose/win" or "lose/lose" -- and consider how she could work with that concept going forward.  We ended the session with a couple of minutes of silence and deep breathing. 

    Finally, I invited them to think about the simple word, thank you, and use it, try it out on people you think are giving you a hard time.  I then thanked our coordinator, Yolanda Robinson, for making it possible for us to have the class.  Some participants thanked Emma Jean for leading the chorus.  Many agreed that thank you is an important word to use.

    Emma and I had a chance to debrief as we left the facility.  She said she almost cried when listening to their reflections. I shared that after speaking about this transformation as "theory" for two years, I am now experiencing it first hand, and it truly is amazing.

    You could provide many of these same "conflict resolution skills," which we're organizing as five-minute tuneups for this context, in classes on anger management, restorative justice, etc., and they are no doubt helpful.  But when you use the arts as a metaphor, and build off of everyone's best effort to contribute to a greater good, you have found a path to these life lessons-- to harmony -- which is heartfelt and joyful.  

    I feel privileged to be able to do this work as part of our mission at CLA--it's really all coming home for me. I also believe that we can have no greater calling in the arts, than combining teaching the arts with critically needed problem solving skills.  If we lift up the most disadvantaged members of our society, we also help lift up their families and our communities. 

    We have also had glancing conversations about "recidivism."  A week ago, I challenged one woman who was complaining about being moved from one pod to another because of her behavior:  "This is not your home.  This is temporary."   She processed that and responded, "Yeah, it's like camp."  Everybody laughed. And my response: "And you're not coming back, right?"

    We also help inmates who are released with their transition back into their communities. One of our participants approached Emma Jean and asked if she could join her choir at Glide after her release.  There, she will find a supportive group of singers who will help to welcome her home.

    In July, Craig Watson, the director of the California Arts Council, and I met with Dr. Jeffrey Beard, the Secretary of the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. The CDCR is seeking ways to re-institutionalize these programs with the support of CAC leadership and administrative infrastructure. Current negotiations between the State Senate, led by President Darrell Steinberg, and Governor Brown have focused on rehabilitation, providing an opening for including the arts in strategies to reduce recidivism.

    If this was a storm, we could say we are in the eye of it.  But--no, "and"--while the storm of realignment is still passing through--the tides of punishment versus rehabilitation are shifting--and the light of civilization is peeking out. Through the fog, we can almost see the bridge.   

    As Sen. Loni Hancock said at a public meeting two years ago responding to my nearly breathless description of the value of arts-in-corrections:  "if it works in corrections, it might work in education!"   And the choir said, silently, "Amen!"

    Alma Robinson, Executive Director
    California Lawyers for the Arts


     
  • Thursday, May 09, 2013 5:06 PM | Alma Robinson (Administrator)

    California Sen. Curren Price, Chair of the Joint Committee on the Arts, presented an informational hearing on arts-in-corrections on May 3 at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. A video of the full hearing is embedded in an article published on-line in the Los Angeles Times

    Stating that he wanted to examine ways to reduce the "prison pipeline," Sen. Price challenged the audience of more than 100 persons: "We need to use all our tools to help identify the problem and come up with solutions...Keeping in mind the victims of heinous crimes, we also want to rehabilitate those who have gone down the wrong path. Upon release, we want this to be a one-way ticket."

    A roster of passionate speakers at the hearing included actor Tim Robbins, artistic director of The Actor's Gang, and musician and songwriter Wayne Kramer, who will receive CLA's Artistic License Award in Santa Monica on June 30. As a co-founder of Jail Guitar Doors and an ex-offender, Kramer has provided musical instruments and facilitated music lessons for incarcerated persons throughout the country.

    Based on his work for the past six years with The Actors Gang Prison Project, Robbins stated that the arts are an essential component of rehabilitation and create the "fundamental change" needed for ex-offenders to adjust to the pressures of life when they are released.

    With a recidivism rate of 70%--possibly the highest in the nation--and a federal court mandate to reduce the severe overcrowding in our state prisons, California needs to implement every rehabilitation strategy that works in order to make sure that those who are released have a solid chance to live productive lives outside.

    In 2009, a federal judicial panel ordered California to reduce the state's inmate population by 33,000 persons; this order was affirmed by the US Supreme Court in 2011. Through "realignment," the state has shifted many offenders to county jails, while reducing the flow of new inmates convicted of non-violent crimes to state prisons. While steady progress has been made, the state still needs to reduce the prison population by about 10,000 persons. Decreasing recidivism would help.

    The Correction Department's own longitudinal study of parolees between 1980 and 1987 showed that released inmates who had been engaged in arts-in-corrections programs had significantly better parole outcomes and lower rates of recidivism. One year after release, arts-in-corrections participants had a “favorable” status rate of 74.2% compared to 49.2% for state parolees as a whole. Two years after release, 69.2% of the AIC parolees retained their favorable status in comparison to a level of 42% for all released inmates. Why wouldn’t we want to increase this “medicine?”

    The California Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts and several private foundations are now supporting a demonstration project organized by California Lawyers for the Arts in collaboration with the William James Association. Updating his 1983 research that showed that arts-in-corrections programs reduce disciplinary incidents in correctional facilities, Dr. Larry Brewster of the University of San Francisco is conducting a "pre and post" evaluation of arts participants to measure changes in behavior and attitudes.

    Assemblyman Ian Calderon, Vice-chair of the Joint Committee on the Arts, underscored the power of art to address recidivism in the state corrections system. The Arts, Entertainment, Sports,Tourism and Internet Media Assembly Committee which he chairs has approved a $75 million allocation for the California Arts Council, which could include substantial funding for arts-in-corrections and a number of other needed community arts programs.

    Carol Hinds, the mother of an inmate and Secretary of the Inmate Family Council at California State Prison-Sacramento, described how her son had been greeted by gangs seeking his affiliation when he entered age 18. After three years of violence, he was moved to a different yard, where he was recruited into arts-in-corrections programs. He discovered musical talent that he did not know he had and has performed classical guitar pieces in a recital for visitors. Fighting tears, she said, "I have my son back. I don't have him for Thanksgiving and birthdays, but I have him back."

    Alma Robinson, Executive Director
    California Lawyers for the Arts

     

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