Lawyered Up

Artists aren’t well-known for their grasp of the legal system, and few areas of the law are more subtle than the protection of creative work. For 27 years the nonprofit organization Lawyers for the Creative Arts has provided pro bono legal aid to artists and arts organizations in the Chicago area. But for the past several years it’s been operating without a full-time director. “We were fading from the radar screen,” admits Scott Hodes, a prominent corporate attorney and philanthropist who helped found the LCA. Hodes is determined to resuscitate the organization, and he’s recruited his old friend and fellow University of Chicago alumnus William Rattner as LCA’s new executive director. A graduate of the Wharton School and Harvard Law, Rattner teaches at Northwestern University’s law school and serves on the board of the Evanston Arts Council; he was preparing to leave the firm of Hopkins & Sutter when Hodes tapped him for the LCA job. “After 38 years in the law business, I was ready to retire, but I wasn’t ready to do nothing,” says Rattner. He accepted the job on the condition that Hodes preside over the board of directors, and Hodes agreed.

According to Hodes, LCA was created to address the specific needs of artists, which he says were not well served by the pro bono program of the Chicago Bar Association. Many of LCA’s early clients were small arts organizations that wanted to incorporate as nonprofits; over the years LCA has aided such local institutions as the New Art Examiner, Chicago Latino Cinema, the Organic Theater, the Chicago Artists’ Coalition, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Individuals usually came looking for help with taxes, insurance, record keeping, consignment agreements, and intellectual property issues. Back in the 1970s the organization referred all legal matters to outside attorneys who would volunteer their time, but after the volume and complexity of cases began to increase, LCA established its own staff. The organization publishes informational materials on such issues as finance, publishing, and copyright and trademark registration. Howard Arnette Jr., LCA’s director of legal services, says that almost half the artists who come in are confused about intellectual property law, especially as it pertains to the Internet.

Rattner has a full agenda ahead of him as executive director. LCA already receives grants from the Illinois Arts Council, the MacArthur Foundation, and other sources, but Hodes wants to expand the organization’s fund-raising effort so it can become a bigger presence and a stronger resource to local artists. He and Rattner want to increase LCA’s roster of publications and strengthen its outreach program, which sends member attorneys to talk to young artists. Its membership still includes nearly 100 attorneys who will take referrals on a pro bono basis, and Hodes says most members are glad to establish working relationships with artists who might become paying clients in the future. He stresses the fact that artists generate our cultural legacy and must understand their legal rights. “If they’re not protected, these people won’t create.”

A Stake in Steak

For more than 20 years Arnie Morton’s restaurant near State and Rush has epitomized the traditional Chicago steak house: dark and clubby, with a decidedly masculine atmosphere. But now Morton’s son Michael, in partnership with Scott DeGraff and veteran chef Michael Kornick, is trying to redefine the big-money steak business with the sleek Nine, located on Randolph near the river. The light, open, white-walled space seems more like an airy California eatery than a macho hangout for red-meat lovers, and the menu moves beyond the basic side dishes to include sashimi, caviar, a napoleon of grilled vegetables, and a crabmeat timbale. In addition to the porterhouse, rib eye, sirloin, and filet mignon, Nine offers entrees of lobster, pasta, chicken, and fish. The partners think the wider variety will appeal to women and to guests who can do without red meat. Others think the traditional concept is still best: declares John Colletti, general manager of Gibsons Steakhouse & Bar on Rush, “We’ve never had pasta or caviar on our menu, and we never will.”

Caught on the Rebound

Composer Jason Robert Brown got a bum rap in New York last season. Parade, Brown’s first major Broadway musical, told the story of Leo Frank, a Brooklyn Jew living in Atlanta who was framed for the murder of a young factory girl in 1913. Despite an impressive score and a book by playwright Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy, The Last Night of Ballyhoo), the show opened at Lincoln Center in December 1998 to mostly negative reviews and closed after ten weeks. Now a touring production of Parade is expected to join the Cadillac Palace Theatre’s lineup of attractions for next season, and Brown’s newest musical, The Last Five Years, will make its world premiere in spring 2001 at Northlight Theatre. Last year Brown served as musical director for Northlight’s production of Dinah Was, and according to artistic director B.J. Jones, he liked the atmosphere at Northlight enough to trust the company with his new show.

Outsider In

Curt Columbus, director of student theater at the University of Chicago, will become the first artistic associate at Steppenwolf Theatre Company chosen from outside the organization’s ensemble. The full list of his responsibilities is still being worked out, but Columbus expects to be involved in new play development, programming for the company’s garage venue, the ensemble’s summer training school, and the Steppenwolf Arts Exchange outreach program. “I think my work at the university made me seem a good fit for that particular project,” says Columbus. Though University of Chicago doesn’t offer a theater degree, Columbus teaches a variety of courses and oversees 35 student productions a year. He has long been associated with Victory Gardens, where he directed Danny Bouncing last season, and for the past four years he’s helped program the summer season at Theater on the Lake in Lincoln Park.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.