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Legal Creative Supports the Local Arts Community

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Founding The Legal Creative, which provides free legal help to the local arts community, isn’t the first time Denise Glinatsis Bayer found her twin interests in law and the arts intertwined.

Bayer, a senior associate with Harrington, Hoppe & Mitchell Ltd. in Youngstown, graduated from Youngstown State University with a bachelor of fine arts. As an actress, she gravitates to Shakespeare and has twice portrayed Lady Olivia in “Twelfth Night.”

But at YSU, where she was involved with Black Box Productions, acting wasn’t her only role with the student-run production company.

“We were responsible for securing the licensing for any of the shows we put on under that production company,” she recalls. “I thought it was interesting that you could have this legal, tangible rights in something that was intangible.”

Bayer, who earned an honors concentration in law and the arts from the Case Western Reserve University School of Law, is executive director of The Legal Creative.

She established the organization in January 2013 a couple years after realizing that no local organization provided volunteer attorneys for the arts. Such organizations in other communities include the Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts in New York and Springboard for the Arts in Minnesota.

Several of Bayer’s friends in the arts community had questions about issues such as licensing and contract law, she says.

“We also saw that there was a lot of misinformation about legal issues, especially in the arts community,” she continues.

Joined by other attorneys, professionals and artists, she formed the organization to address not only the absence of pro bono legal services but also a lack of business resources for artists.

The arts play an important role in the economy, Bayer says: “They have a significant impact in not only attracting but retaining businesses in this area.”

The services Legal Creative provides fall into three areas, Bayer says.

The first is providing pro bono legal clinics the organization tries to host at least quarterly. Typically the clinics are held at branches of the Public Library of Youngstown and Mahoning County, an option Legal Creative’s not-for-profit status allows.

The biggest issue artists bring with them to the clinics is “a fear to get things in writing or a fear to enter into a contract with others,” a situation that has changed somewhat since the organization began offering the legal clinics, Bayer says.

“Artists are wanting to establish themselves as a separate business entity. They want to make sure that they’re doing everything legally and by the book. And they’re looking toward following those legal lines more often,” Bayer says.

Legal Creative presents workshops and seminars, occasionally in conjunction with Power of the Arts, a local arts advocacy group.

Topics have included contract law for the artist-entrepreneur, copyright law and tax issues, Bayer says.

In addition, Legal Creative helps bring community art projects to the area, including a Youngstown neighborhood postcard project at YSU’s Summer Festival of the Arts.

“We’ve done community-supported art. And we are also going to work with YSU students and [Mahoning County Career and Technical Center] students on a social cause poster project later this year, for which we just received a Puffin Foundation West grant,” she says.

To date, the organization has helped 50 or so artists and organizations, according to Bayer.

Among those is Sew Cute! Boutique & Classroom in downtown Warren. Sew Cute sells handmade items, most of them from local designers, and hosts knitting, sewing and crocheting classes and parties, says owner La Kita Williams. The business also leases studio and office space.

Williams first learned about Legal Creative as a participant in the Raymond John Wean Foundation’s Emerging Leaders program, she says. Before she could take advantage of it, she became reacquainted with it as a participant in We Launch, an initiative offered by the Youngstown Business Incubator’s Women in Entrepreneurship program.

“I needed some assistance with my vendor agreements,” Williams recalls. Bayer, through Legal Creative, helped her refine the language in those agreements, she says.

Legal Creative and Bayer also helped Students Motivated by the Arts – better known as Smarts – with its transition from a program at Youngstown State University to an independent, nonprofit entity that provides arts education in the community.

Becky Keck, Smarts executive director, credits Legal Creative as one of the first three important pieces – the other two being landlord Ohio One Corp. and marketing firm Jet Creative – in the organization’s transition.

Crucial first steps included registering Smarts with the state of Ohio and securing 501(c)3 status. “At a time when everything was so abstract and complicated, Denise [Bayer] made the process not abstract and not complicated,” Keck says.

“We were one of the first groups to offer our assistance to Smarts in helping them incorporate as a separate entity,” Bayer says. Legal Creative helped secure the Smarts name trademark, she says.

In May 2014, Smarts announced its transition to a community organization. By August of that year, it had secured its physical assets and by November it was providing programming.

“Not only did they do the work free, but they did the work very, very well,” Keck says.

Volunteer attorneys have expertise in a variety of areas, including business formation, contract law and copyright and trademark law. Bayer has a core of about 10 attorneys who volunteer consistently.

Among them is Megan Millich, who practices with Roetzel & Andress, Akron.

Millich, on Legal Creative’s board since 2015, has participated in the legal clinics three years, she says.

“I thought it was an interesting spin on the practice of law,” Millich says.

She also sees participating in the organization as a way to give back to the community that’s entirely separate from her professional practice, which focuses on medical malpractice and negligence cases.

Lawyers assess risks, Millich says. For a client intending to set up a business, the lawyer’s role is identifying and avoiding pitfalls, minimizing risk in matters as simple as making sure they get paid or avoid litigation.

Most artists she deals with look for documents to establish a business entity or to review contracts, she says.

Daniel Ross, who practices law in the Mahoning Valley and Greater Cleveland, similarly “loves the premise” of Legal Creative, he says.

“There was a huge need to explain the legal landscape and legal ramifications for what creative types are involved in,” Ross says.

Artists, because of the “enigmatic nature of the law,” often don’t understand how the law interplays with business, he says.

As one of the volunteer attorneys, Ross has helped artists with issues such as intellectual property, business regulations and tax codes, “lots of stuff they don’t think about when they want to make a business out of something creative,” he says.

Participating in the volunteer clinics has helped Ross become more effective in counseling the artists, he says.

“It’s great to open their eyes to things they might not be thinking about,” he continues. “My goal is to prepare them for the adversity and the opportunity that goes with starting a business.”

This year Legal Creative will offer its pro bono clinics May 20 and Sept. 23 at the Youngstown/Mahoning County public library’s Newport branch and is seeking a Trumbull County site as well.

In addition, the organization will partner this summer with the library to promote local entrepreneurship resources. This will involve a Legal Creative volunteer presenting a session on contract law for the artist entrepreneur, copyright law for creatives or business law for the budding artist, Bayer says.

This fall, Legal Creative will offer a new workshop, Work of Art, she continues. Another workshop, Business Skills for Artists, is a 12-unit set of professional development and entrepreneurship workshops that have been developed for artists in various disciplines.

The units focus on business skills relevant to the artist entrepreneur, Bayer says. Legal Creative is working with Smarts to hold the sessions in the space it is renovating in the Ohio One Building.

Pictured: Denise Glinatsis Bayer started The Legal Creative after realizing no local organization provided volunteer attorneys for the arts.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.