COVID-19 closures and cancellations exacerbate artists' legal needs: report

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      The National Network of Legal Clinics for the Arts has released a new report stressing the urgent legal needs of people who work in the arts—especially since COVID-19 measures hit.

      The study, titled Now More Than Ever: Towards a National Network of Legal Clinics for the Arts, highlighted financial hardship, copyright complexity, and pandemic challenges facing cultural-sector workers.

      "Cancellations and closures due to COVID-19 are having a catastrophic impact on the Canadian arts sector, which is worsening artists’ already precarious living conditions and is increasing the urgency of their legal needs," the report reads. "While much of the evidence is anecdotal at this point, it can be said that contracts, employment, commercial rent relief, and human rights are among the concerns reported most frequently. Our recommendations take into account the legal issues artists and arts organizations are reporting due to the current pandemic."

      The study also exposes gaps in legal needs, protections, and legal literacy and education exacerbating the toll of COVID-19. You can read the entire report here.

      Now More Than Ever was born from a national legal needs-assessment study, surveying more than 1,150 Canadian artists, arts organizations, and legal experts working in the sector. Amid the findings: 94 percent of artists feel strongly they are facing unique legal needs, with the majority expressing a lack of information and training on legal issues related to their work, as well as inadequate access to legal services.

      “Most artists have difficulty navigating complex contracts and copyright issues—they find their work taken without permission and often don’t know where to turn," Martha Rans, legal director of Artists’ Legal Outreach (ALO) in Vancouver, said in the announcement this week. (She heads up one of three clinics that comprise the emerging national network. “Since the COVID-19 crisis began, we have heard from a number of artists left out in the cold when a gallery is closed without notice, agreements cancelled without compensation, and commercial tenancies in jeopardy (including the closure of artist studios with less than 30 days notice)."

      The threat to artist tenancies came to the fore in Vancouver last week, when the Straight reported more than 50 artists received eviction notices from Eastside Culture Crawl mainstay William Clark Studios. Managers blamed rising rents and COVID-19, and tenants are still scrambling to see if they have any recourse.

      The new report findings back the network's push to unify their efforts across the country in an attempt to give artists and arts organizations better access to justice.

      Testimonials in the report highlight a range of complex issues faced by artists. Among them:

      "When a theatre company produced my show, and paid me no royalties, I couldn’t afford a lawyer.”

      "From artist work [...] contracts and violations to 'gig' contracts, there is never enough money to have a lawyer act as an advocate.”

      "Include appropriation of Indigenous knowledge into current copyright framework.”

      The Needs Assessment also pointed to challenges faced by existing legal clinics, which often operate in isolation with little to no funding.

      For now, member organizations of the national network will be offering Art Law Talks on a regular basis; see more info at ALO Vancouver here.