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Program aims to help artists with legal issues

Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, Seeing Things

Staff Writer
Austin 360

Gaining a desk, a phone and an office could seem like small signs of advancement.

But for the Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts, the establishment of an Austin office — not to mention the appointment of a staff person — is major.

Though the nonprofit organization formed in 1979, it's never had a formal office or point person in Texas' capital city.

The Austin Lawyer and Accountants for the Arts shuttered its office and operations in 2000. And since then Austin has not had a pro bono referral organization for legal or accounting services for artists.

But a recent donation from the Intel Corp. has leveraged the opening of a Central Texas TALA office as well as a part-time staff member.

The TALA operations will be embedded in the Austin Creative Alliance headquarters in East Austin. The alliance is an artists service organization already providing a host of assistance to the creative sector.

Alissa McCain will head the TALA Central Texas program. Formerly with the Austin Music Foundation and an attorney herself, McCain has been working with the alliance since last year and will split her time between it and TALA.

"Both organizations can save on overheard costs, and we can provide crossover services to artists," McCain says.

McCain said her principal charge will be to organize public programs. The first is a free legal clinic for entertainment and arts professional on May 16.

If legal and accounting issues seem mundane compared to the colorful world of artistic inspiration, they're a practical necessity.

"Every artist is a budding entrepreneur, and they need everything that any other business would need, whether they realize it or not," says attorney Blair Dancy, a longtime TALA board member. "You have to understand what it is you're selling and how you protect what you're selling. And there are plenty of (issues) that are unique to the creative professions."

Still, Dancy said the range of issues on which artists seek advice from TALA generally mirrors what any service professional might encounter: labor and employment contracts, landlord/tenant issues, insurance needs, licensing and copyright, bookkeeping for tax purposes.

Dancy, who is with the firm of Van Osselaer & Buchanan, and other attorneys and accountants who volunteer with TALA have helped bands establish themselves as business entities, helped arts groups achieve official nonprofit status and guided musicians through the maze of copyright and licensing law.

Simply put, the goal of TALA is to give artists the necessary tools needed to make a living, Dancy said.

A sense of personal accomplishment for Dancy came in October when he represented artist Raul Valdez in a lawsuit against the Metz Recreation Center's advisory board, which had failed to pay him for a mural project and community art classes though it had received funding for the project from Austin Energy's Good Neighbor program. A court judgment issued after a jury trial ruled in favor of Valdez, awarding him $37,353 for the classes, court costs and attorney fees.

"I was able to give an artist his day in court," Dancy says.

Accounting and legal services are offered to artists by TALA pro bono if they meet the income requirements.

Though to date the TALA main office in Houston has been able to help Central Texas artists with local referrals, Dancy said having a person on the ground in Austin should not only help local artists, but also entice Austin legal and accounting professionals to volunteer.

"It's the local support that makes this possible, and in return, we are able to provide more services for local artists."

Contact Jeanne Claire van Ryzin at or 445-3699

Legal Clinic for Entertainment and Arts Professionals