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Since 1983, Utah Lawyers for the Arts has been a rather low-profile service organization, made up of volunteer lawyers who give free legal advice and services to arts organizations.

New president Sue Vogel hopes to raise the visibility of the organization with a three-pronged approach. Besides the usual legal services, she would like to see the group make aggressive progress as advocates for the arts, and gain more arts savvy through workshops and exhibits presented by arts organizations.To better acquaint the city and the arts establishment with this organization, Utah Lawyers for the Arts will sponsor a reception on May 17 from 6 to 8 p.m., in the Salt Lake Art Center. The public is welcome, especially lawyers, arts administrators and artists.

William D. Holyoak, former president and now treasurer, reviewed a little of what the organization has accomplished during the past five years.

"We have mostly assisted artists and arts organizations in forming non-profit corporations and gaining non-taxable status," he said, citing Lallapalooza, the Salt Lake Vocal Ensemble, Kismet and North Mountain as organizations that have used their services. "But there are many, many more. We also frequently advise on contract and lease negotiations. Our only charge is a $15 referral fee."

Another service is a class, "Law and the Arts," available through the Institute of Arts Administration at the University of Utah and taught by member lawyers in alternation.

Though the public may know little about them, Utah Lawyers for the Arts has great credibility with the Utah Arts Council and the Salt Lake Arts Council. "Both councils urge arts organizations to use our services," said Holyoak.

He noted that some disputes have been mediated, with lawyers' assistance. "We prefer not to go to court and have not yet done so, as far as I know, but if litigation were necessary we would represent arts clients in simple matters without fee," he said. "They would have to pay court costs."

Board member Robin L. Riggs, who is associate general counsel for Utah's Office of Legislative Research, drafts state tax legislation. He sees great possibilities for a better climate for arts by pointing out tax-free incentives for organizations, and by monitoring legislation as it is being drafted.

"We might be able to do limited lobbying for arts causes," said Vogel. "We have to be sure we can legally do so."

Though the backbone of their services will still be offering legal aid to artists, "we are brainstorming how we can tap the legal community, to use their skills more effectively," said Vogel. One immediate possibility she sees is through small visual art exhibits in legal firms' headquarters, where other lawyers can stop in and see, and perhaps purchase works of art.

Vogel has a pet project of her own - to bring the work of muralist Pablo O'Higgins, an East High graduate who spent his productive life in Mexico and died in 1983, to Utah for an exhibit, perhaps at her firm. "It would be a coup for us; though he is so famous, his work has never been shown in Utah," she said.

She also has in mind seminars where "lawyers could teach artists about the law, and artists could teach lawyers more about their arts," she said. "This would surely open up avenues to understanding and ways to assist."

Gary Vlasic, a dancer with Company of Four, is a welcome member of a new board of directors which has been in place for the past three months. "Artists see from a different angle; they have wonderful, creative ideas," said Vogel.

"Beyond legal service considerations, we are exploring ways we can present art to lawyers, bring them closer to the arts," said Vlasic.

Utah Lawyers for the Arts has in the past had a membership of about 150. Vogel recently sent out 400 applications, and response indicates that fully as many and possibly more lawyers will sign on again. "On the form they can indicate their area of expertise and interest in the arts," said Vogel.

One area in which she finds that artists need all the help they can get is in copyright matters, and in licensing others to use their work. She cited the example of an artist who was recently licensing a company to use his design on a T-shirt.

"I read over the agreement they proposed to make, and was astounded at how much the company expected him to give up. In effect they had put a hold on most of his future creative output. With an hour's work I was able to tighten up the contract and protect him,"Vogel said.

She sees Lawyers in the Arts contributions as "not big deals, just a lot of common sense. Artists do not think legalese, and they do not have superior bargaining power - both areas in which we can help them, by weighing issues thoughtfully and showing them how to apply leverage.

"We don't want artists to wait until they get in a fix, but to know we are here, and available. We want to educate people on how to use a lawyer to work behind the scenes. If an artist will come to us, then use our advice in contract or rental negotiations, we can do a lot to help smooth things over without confrontation," she said.

Besides Vogel, Holyoak, Riggs and Vlasic, other board members of Utah Lawyers for the Arts are vice president Guy P. Kroesche; Utah Supreme Court clerk Phyllis J. Vetter, secretary, and David Sucec, an artist teaching at USU.