“40 Stories” Spotlight: California Lawyers for the Arts

To celebrate our 40th Anniversary, we asked forty of our amazing grantees, past and present, to tell the story of their work and their relationship with the California Arts Council. Throughout this anniversary year, we’ll be sharing excerpts from our special publication 40 Stories, 40 Years here on the blog. You can view the complete collection at this link.

Editor’s Note: California Lawyers for the Arts will hold their annual Artistic License Awards on May 17 in Sacramento, honoring Marcy Friedman, Senator Mark Leno, Art Luna, Senator Jim Nielsen, The Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus, and Ali Youssefi.


California Lawyers for the Arts

By Alma Robinson, Executive Director

Year of first CAC Grant: 1976

Legal Services, Educational Programs

California Lawyers for the Arts (CLA) was founded as Bay Area Lawyers for the Arts in 1974, the third “lawyers for the arts” organization established in the US (after New York and Chicago). CAC funding provided recognition that our legal services and educational programs were worthy of support from the State of California.

Our early funding from the CAC, which required matching grants, also provided leverage for additional support from foundations and other public agencies. For example, our mediation program—the first in the nation for artists and arts organizations—was able to garner support from the Ford Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. This program became the model for similar programs that we helped to start at art/law organizations throughout the country.

Expanding Reach, Building Relationships

As a result of the CAC’s rigorous application process, we improved our organizational practices in budgeting, strategic planning, personnel management and program design. Knowing that the organization would be reviewed by a panel representing peer organizations around the state inspired us to strive for excellence in our business practices as well as in service delivery. Our organization also benefitted from participating in a series of CAC convenings that brought together arts service organizations, state/local partners and other arts leaders from around California. Through CAC leadership, we built strong relationships with Southern California colleagues who encouraged us to expand our services to Los Angeles. The CAC has been our most reliable funder since the inception of our organization in 1974.

Operating Support Sustains the Core

We applaud the CAC for providing arts organizations with general operating support, which is under-valued by many philanthropic organizations. As a grantee in the Statewide Networks program, we have used the funds to sustain our core programs and services that provide “infrastructure” for the arts community. In the past year, 1,617 individuals participated in 81 CLA  educational events, 1,300 persons participated in mediation services, and 636 clients were matched with attorneys. We have also worked successfully with the CAC to develop a strong platform for public awareness of the value of the arts in solving our state’s most pressing issues, including environmental concerns, public safety, youth development, and over-incarceration.


AlmaRobinsonAlma Robinson has worked for the California Lawyers for the Arts since 1981. An attorney, she was the founding director of CLA’s Arts Arbitration and Mediation Services and initiated Arts Resolution Services, a national network of art/law organizations providing mediation services modeled on CLA’s. program, as well as CLA’s Arts and Community Development Program, which provides job training in the arts for disadvantaged youth and became the model for similar programs in Texas and Washington, D.C. She was a founding board member of California Arts Advocates and the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco.

View the complete 40 Stories, 40 Years collection at this link.

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