It is no secret that artists tend to struggle — financially at least. Which is why those in creative fields should always pay attention to resources at their disposal, especially when it comes to protecting their intellectual property. In Denver, one incredible program offers an entire database of attorneys who will help with legal matters pro bono. Started in 2015, it is operated through the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts (CBCA) and is called Colorado Attorneys for the Arts (CAFTA). Except for the application fee, this can be a completely free service that would normally cost a pretty penny.

When artists apply to CAFTA, their applications are sent to the CBCA where people like Meredith Badler (the current program director) tries to refine the clients’ needs and find an attorney who is fitting for the case — and willing. After all, this is pro bono work for the attorneys, so there is no requirement or incentive other than the suggested moral ethics put forth in the Colorado Bar Association rules. What makes CAFTA different from other pro bono opportunities for Colorado attorneys is the interesting nuance of the cases and how the attorneys often share interests with their clients. For instance, a currently practicing attorney in CAFTA, Zach Warkentin, said “the reward is all in the relationships and education. I’ve met and built strong relationships with several clients, and I get to assist in their business growing. I also get to see creatives think about their craft as more than just art. We all know creatives are rarely the best business people, so the education component is important so creative businesses can protect themselves moving forward.”

More than anything, the CBCA and Badler act as matchmakers between artists and attorneys. Badler isn’t an attorney herself — in fact, her experience hinges more on the art and culture side of the business. So the process she executes is more about playing the role of middleman. Her understanding of art and culture, through previous jobs in theater and production companies, allows her to understand where the clients are coming from. She expounded, “the matchmaking, the connections, being able to make those connections — that’s the really exciting part because at CBCA we really sit squarely at that intersection of arts and business. I love when we can get someone in the arts the help they really need. We also know that there are folks out there who are lawyers, but in their previous life they were musicians, or actors, or graphic designers or they just have a passion for the arts. For them to be able to give back in such a tangible and impactful way is really wonderful. That’s one of the best things about CBCA — seeing how those two disparate groups can really help each other out.”

A presentation by CBCA. Photo courtesy of CAFTA on Facebook

Currently, the database of attorneys is numbered at almost 100, with a broad spectrum of law practices represented — from transactional services to intellectual property and copyright to nonprofit formation to employment and labor disputes and even general business matters. In 2018, CAFTA made 35 referrals at an almost 100 percent success rate (as in the client and attorney were able to finish their transaction). Though that might not seem like a huge amount, the difference the service makes in those 35 cases is usually tremendous. For some clients, it can be the difference of making a living doing what they love or signing bad contracts that put them in even worse situations. The overall advice, especially from Badler, is to apply early and be preventative because it’s easier to write a contract than it is to litigate once one has been broken or infringed upon.

“It was in 2013 we realized that CBCA didn’t have a program, officially, to serve the creative industries. We did a lot to support the nonprofit art sector, but we realized that individual artists, writers, filmmakers, people running creative businesses — we didn’t have anything to offer them. We realized CAFTA was a perfect way to help them,” explained Badler. According to Badler, the CAFTA program was modeled off other organizations nationally, but also locally. “There was a prior organization that also existed in the ’80s  — COLA [Colorado Lawyers for the Arts] a stand-alone nonprofit organization that essentially did the same thing — it offered a referral service. It was all about connecting low-income artists and cultural nonprofits to pro bono attorneys. But in the early 2000s, COLA silently went away. It just kind of disappeared. There were a number of years we didn’t know if they were still around and there were still artists that needed help.”

One client, Emily Satterlee, used CAFTA when she started her music company in Boulder. She remarked, “I was matched with Zach Warkentin, a Denver-based legal wiz who specializes in IP strategy legal advice but who also is a musician and has expressed enthusiasm around the service my company is building for artists. Zach is incredible — he’s kind, punctual, treats my needs as a priority and with seriousness. He’s incredibly knowledgeable in both IP, but also in music and entertainment law. And he’s approachable — not your typical, buttoned-up lawyer.” She added that “CAFTA has been so valuable to me in terms of getting my startup off the ground. These types of initiatives that support the arts here in Colorado is the primary reason that I have decided to stay and launch my startup here, as opposed to moving it to Los Angeles or Nashville.”

Now that CAFTA has been in place for three years, the CBCA also wants to focus on other resources at that “intersection of arts and business” as Badler put it. Because CAFTA has an application process, a fee and also a requirement that you do not make enough money to pay for the services in full, there are plenty of applications that are ineligible. But, CBCA and matchmakers like Badler don’t want those artists and creatives to go unhelped, so they have been holding workshops and classes for those considered ineligible, with a hope to start personal income tax classes in the near future.

Dealing with legal business matters when you’re a creatively fueled person is quite possibly the last thing on your list. But CAFTA is like a low-impact workout and we promise you won’t be sore after you try it.

In order to apply for CAFTA, visit this website.  There is one non-refundable application fee. 

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