Away from the Corporate Rollercoaster

By Joanna Kamath on 31st December 2005

I first heard about the Arts Law Centre of Australia at an “alternatives to law” careers day at Sydney University. I was one of the many creatively repressed law students aching to get a taste of what career options were out there for soon to be law graduates who did not wish to ride the corporate rollercoaster. Glancing around the room, I seemed to be out of luck – banking and finance companies abounded and it was all getting a bit much for this practically innumerate student, who was closer to considering a career as a trapeze artist than one in the financial sector.

I was about to leave when I noticed a sign: “The Arts Law Centre of Australia”. As the man at that desk appeared to be the most cheerful and approachable person in the room (AKA Garey Campbell), I sidled up and asked him the obvious question: “So what exactly is the Arts Law Centre?” He answered that it was a community legal centre for the arts offering legal services to artists of all media Australia wide. That sounded good. He also told me they offered volunteer positions. That sounded better. As an Arts/Law student with a strong interest in the media arts (and still holding some fanciful hopes of breaking into the independent film industry one day), I left determined to get a volunteering position with the organisation, even though I still didn’t quite understand what it was all about.

A few weeks later, I arrived for my interview at Arts Law’s office seriously overdressed and a little nervous only to find myself at the funkiest joint in town – a warehouse conversion in Woolloomooloo, home to a host of arts organisations and a fantastic modern art gallery. There to greet me was my incredibly friendly and relaxed “interview panel” consisting of Arts Law solicitors Katherine, Sally and Sam.

During the interview, I blabbed on about my aversion to the harsh censorship guidelines operating in Australia and my interest in film and dance (not really knowing if these had any relevance to what Arts Law did). I was soon to find out, however, (having been lucky enough to be offered a position), that Arts Law had a lot to do with both those things and a great many more as well!

Despite its relaxed and friendly atmosphere, I discovered that Arts Law is a very busy place working on some very important legal issues. I was surprised and encouraged to find that they took on an important public advocacy role as well as offering legal advice to artists of all descriptions.

Among the first of my tasks was doing research for Arts Law’s submission to the Attorney-General’s Department, in response to proposed changes to Australian copyright law, and updating information sheets in light of amendments that have recently been introduced into Australian law as a result of the Australian United States Free Trade Agreement. As a law student, I had never had the opportunity to consider how these issues actually affected those working in the creative industries.

My position as a volunteer researcher allowed me to further develop the research and analytical skills I had gained at university, and to better understand the practical application of the seemingly abstract principles of law I had studied in class.

Volunteering at Arts Law has been a fantastic experience, and I owe a lot to the Arts Law team for allowing me to indulge my interests in the media and the law simultaneously, and to pursue issues that were of particular interest to me. The experience has confirmed my desire to undertake post-graduate study in the media field, and I will certainly try to keep up with Arts Law’s news and the progress it is making as an important force behind arts related legal issues in Australia.

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