Close-Up: Martha Rans, Artists and the Law

by Michael Turner

In art, representation is a process whereby the “real” world is mediated through words, sound, pictures or gestures, yet it also refers to literary agents, music managers and art gallerists who work on the artist’s behalf. With the internet, many artists now have the means to bypass traditional arts industries and deal directly with their audiences. However, for those careful to protect their work and make a living from it, certain skills are required – one of which, according to artist advocate Martha Rans, is “a basic understanding of the law.”

Born and raised in London, Ontario (where her parents were among the founders of Canada’s first artist-run centre, 20/20 Gallery, in 1966), Rans was called to the bar in 1995. From there she volunteered with Artists’ Legal Advice Services before moving to Vancouver in 1997. “Law is a profession that seems at a remove from most people’s experience,” she told Preview in a recent interview. “That’s where the clinics come in.”

These clinics comprise Rans’ latest initiative: the National Network of Legal Clinics for the Arts (NNLCA). Encouraged by recommendations in the 2019 Shifting Paradigms report of the Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage (“supporting the creation and distribution of educational materials to raise awareness on copyright provisions and artist remuneration, as well as artists’ rights and responsibilities under the Copyright Act; increasing its efforts to combat piracy and enforce copyright; and increasing its support for creators and creative industries in adapting to new digital markets”), the NNLCA has devised a multivalent program to assist artists working within and without traditional and emergent systems of production and distribution.

“Ninety percent of what we do is educate,” says Rans, who notes that one of the biggest obstacles facing artists today is “how to ask for what you want.”

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