Success Stories

We've been serving the arts community since 1982, so we have many success stories.

Every Artist Insured

Tim Rakel (right) was among the artists who received one-on-one assistance with health insurance enrollment on Jan. 14, 2014. The session was co-sponsored by the Community Action Agency of St. Louis County, which sent four certified counselors, including James Lovings (left). St. Louis artists to discuss their health insurance challenges. Asked St. Louis-based artists to tell us their stories. Watch our videos here.



Professor Sends Art Student to 2013 Business Edge Workshops

To graduate on time, Maryville University B.F.A. candidate Emily Stockwood needed to take a seminar course that was not offered in the fall. So, John Baltrushunas, director of the university’s studio art program, came up with a plan: Emily would get credit for attending our series of professional development seminars.  “It was a good way to get my toes into the art world outside of the university bubble,” she said.


Free Tax Prep Clinics: 2013

Thanks to a new partnership with Gateway EITC Community Coalition, we offered free tax prepartion services to the residents of Metropolitan Artist Lofts and Leather Trades Artist Lofts. Both properties provide affordable housing for artists. "Everything was quick and painless," said artist Matt Bloomberg (right). "Best tax experience ever!" Gateway EITC volunteer Lucas Gredell (left) is a portfolio financial analyst at US Bank.


Kickstarter School Is Standing Room Only

More than 175 people jammed into Regional Arts Commission’s studio on Mar. 19, 2012, to hear Stephanie Pereira, Kickstarter’s director of art programs, and local panelists Nicole Hollway (Storycubes Sukkah), James McAnally (The Luminary Center for the Arts) and Bryan Walsh (The Screwed Arts Collective) explain how the growing crowd-funding platform is bringing creative ideas to life. The free program and reception were co-sponsored by VLAA, Regional Arts Commission and Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (CAM).

Photo: Unitey Kull, director of programs and audience development, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis; Kickstarter’s Stephanie Pereira; and Jill A. McGuire, executive director, Regional Arts Commission

Kickstarter, the world’s largest funding platform for creative projects, helps artists of all disciplines solicit modest online donations. It works like this: Creative projects must be finite with a clear beginning and end, and artists make their pitch by making short videos. Campaigns are expected to offer "rewards" to "backers," such as a listing in the film’s credits or a free CD. Artists choose a deadline and a target minimum of funds to be raised. If the chosen target is not gathered by the deadline, no funds are collected. Kickstarter, a for-profit enterprise, takes 5 percent of the money collected; Amazon, which processes payments, charges an additional 3 to 5 percent.

Here are a few observations from the St. Louis discussion:
• Mounting and running a successful campaign is very time consuming.
• Most contributions come from core supporters who already have a connection to the artist(s).
• Thirty-day campaigns seem to work best, and avoiding the summer months and December is recommended.
• Creating and distributing rewards, such as T-shirts and books, can be a a drawn-out (and expensive) chore, so be realistic about your timeline and related costs, such as postage.
• Campaigns yield publicity and relationship-building benefits beyond the money raised.

Kickstarter has hosted more than 13,000 successful campaigns since its launch in 2009. According to co-founder Yancey Strickler, the service is on track to distribute more than $150 million this year — more than the 2012 National Endowment of the Arts budget. While Kickstarter is expanding the arts-funding ecosystem, it is not in competition with the NEA, which primarily funds established nonprofit organizations through a rigorous grantmaking process.


Business Edge Goes to Rolla

Twenty-eight (mostly visual) artists are tax savvy and marketing with greater confidence thanks to two Business Edge workshops presented in collaboration with Arts Rolla on Jan. 28, 2012. What did Colleen Kelley (pictured left with Sandy Chasteen), who works in pastels and acrylics, find most valuable? “Are you kidding — all of it!!”

The morning session, Artist as Bookkeeper, covered recordkeeping, how the IRS distinguishes between a hobby and a business and Schedule C. Rita Choate, a Rolla-based tax preparer, co-presented with VLAA Executive Director Sue Greenberg. Marketing & Professional Presentation, presented by Greenberg after lunch, focused on basic strategies and pricing. The artists left with a thick packet of sample materials, such artist statements and elevator pitches, tip sheets and a marketing plan template. “I learned a lot. I think everyone did,” said Loretta Wallis (pictured right), president of Art Rolla. According the arts council's administrator, Reba Fryer, the professional development program also boosted organization's membership with one new member and two renewals. The Business Edge workshop was made possible by a grant from the Missouri Arts Council.

St. Louis Shape Singers

Most Monday evenings, the St. Louis Shape Note Singers meet to sing traditional choral music — a cappella in four part harmony — from The Sacred Harp and The Missouri Harmony, two songbooks that were first published in the early 19th century.
Seated in a rows facing each other in what is called a hallow square, they sing for themselves and for each other — not for an audience. Each singer takes a turn leading the group by stepping into the middle, calling out a song, and then beating the tempo with up-and-down arm motions. The music itself also is meant to be participatory. The songs are written in standard notation except that the note-heads are printed in distinctive geometrical shapes that ingeniously allow those without musical training to sight-read. Shape note singing has a distinctive open sound that is exuberant, rhythmic and LOUD.

A seemingly unlikely VLAA client, Wings of Song, the singers’ nonprofit, asked for legal assistance in 2004 and in 2010. The group’s initial questions involved The Missouri Harmony, a shape note songbook originally published in 1820. The book had been out of print for nearly 150 years when Wings of Song decided to publish a new edition in collaboration with the Missouri Historical Society Press. The 350-page hardbound book includes psalm tunes, odes and anthems by early American composers, folk tunes and hymns. It also inclueds songs in these styles by living composers.

“We’ve been receiving requests for recordings of the songs,” said Barbara Uhlemann (foreground), who submitted the application for assistance in December. “We were wondering about releases from the composers and if we could make a profit from selling CDs or making the songs available for downloading from our site.” Scott A. Smith, an associate with Polster, Lieder, Woodruff & Lucchesi, was happy to answer the questions. “Too often, clients leap before they look,” he said. “It’s so much easier to avoid a problem than to sort one out. And I learned about a musical tradition that I didn’t know existed.”

Law Student Gains Hands-On Experience

Like St. Louis Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts (VLAA), Kristina Cho believes artists need to know more about the law. Cho first heard about VLAA when she was an undergraduate communications design student at Washington University’s Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. “One of the elective classes offered by the art school invited a speaker from VLAA to inform students about their legal rights. I felt this was an important topic that was not adequately addressed by the art school. So I focused my senior seminar project around the basics of intellectual property and used the project as a vehicle to introduce the topic to my peers,” Cho said.

Now a first year student at the University of Virginia Law School, Cho spent part of her winter break volunteering at VLAA. During her whirlwind week, she wrote an article on website accessibility, summaries of eight tax cases addressing the difference between a hobby and a business, an explanation of the Sunshine Law for nonprofit arts organizations and a notice for filmmakers about how Missouri’s film tax credit may be eliminated. Cho also attended a “job fair” reception for first-year law students hosted by Washington University School of Law and “No Stupid Questions: Financial Oversight for Nonprofit Board Members,” a free  VLAA lecture at the St. Louis Public Library's Schlafly branch. She proofread the 2011 edition of VLAA’s Artist as Bookkeeper and sat in on a discussion with an artist-teacher who wants to start a new nonprofit.

“Volunteering at VLAA has been a great experience. I’ve learned so much in a short time by doing hands-on work for the organization. I had a chance to practice my research and writing skills, speak with volunteers and meet VLAA clients. It’s great to see how far-reaching VLAA’s influence is in St. Louis,” she said.

Virginia Law’s Winter Break Pro Bono Program provides an introduction to the skills and values that promote a lifetime commitment to law-related community service. Because Cho worked more than 25 hours, she completed the school’s Pro Bono Challenge and will receive a dean-signed certificate. Congratulations!

Business Edge: Career Planning for Artists

Talk about gratifying e-mail! The day after our Career Planning for Artists workshop, we received this message from De Nichols: Dear Sue, I would like to thank you and fellow instructor, Susan Bostwick, for sharing your insight and resources with me at the VLAA Career Planning workshop earlier this week. As a young designer and hopeful student of the Regional Art Commission's Community Arts Training Institute (CAT), it was truly valuable to think with so much breadth about how to transform my passions, talents and education into a sustainable career. Already, the workshop has influence my steps with a collaborative and emerging design initiative that I am leading called We Are Storied. After Monday's session, I shared with my team the 5 Year Plan that I created, and on that very night, we launched both our branding mark and Website to the public. As we continue progressing with this initiative, I look forward to attending the upcoming Business Edge workshops and hope to bring other young artists and creatives with me.

Nichols graduated from the Sam Fox School of Design at Washington University in 2010. She is the social media and graphic designer at Cultural Festivals, which produces the Saint Louis Art Fair and Big Read Festival. She will be a 2010-2011 CAT fellow.

QuickBooks Training for Nonprofits

"I can't begin to tell you what a godsend it was to attend the VLAA sessions on QuickBooks for nonprofit organizations," said Julia Buser Welch (right), a Philharmonic Society of Belleville board member. Welch and 19 other arts administrators attended our annual training, which was conducted by Lorri Rippelmeyer (left), Erin Fann and Robert Berger of Anders, Minkler & Diehl LLP at Webster University's downtown campus on Jan. 26 and Feb. 2. The AMD team covered basic nonprofit accounting concepts and QuickBooks basics, including payroll. For Welch, the timing was fortuitous. "The Philharmonic is losing our longtime treasurer," she said. Several participants, including Very Special Arts of Missouri Executive Director Kit Bardwell (below), who traveled across the state from Liberty, Mo., said the hands-on approach made the workshops worth the time and effort to attend (Very Special Arts received federal tax exemption in November thanks to the assistance of VLAA Volunteer Attorney Nichole Wren, Gallop, Johnson & Neuman. And there was kudos for the three CPAs. "Your volunteer accountants were clear and patient with us non-accountants in showing us how to use QuickBooks specifically for arts organizations," Welch said. Thanks to grant support and annual donations from law and accounting firms, tuition was a very affordable $35. Students received thick QuickBooks manuals and complimentary copies of a nonprofit accounting textbook. They also had the option of purchasing the 2010 software package for just $100. "Our Board greatly appreciated the discount on the QuickBooks program," Welch said. "With finances being stretched to the limits these days, that saving was most helpful." (photos: Benjamin Trevor Photography)

Dramatic License Productions

This case is a triple win. It's a win for the client — Dramatic License Productions, a win for a law student who got to see what she learned in the classroom applied to the real world and a win for the attorney who supervised her work. Dramatic License Productions is a new theatrical and cabaret production company founded by St. Louis veteran actress Kim Furlow (seen here as Sister Aloysius in the company's production of Doubt: A Parable). Her mission is to offer affordable, accessible performances for the underserved West County audience, while providing directing, acting and design opportunities for local artists.

After completing the worksheets that accompany VLAA's Nonprofit Incorporation Workbook, Furlow was matched with Liz Hudzik, a third year law student at Washington University, and Matthew J. Smith, an attorney at Polsinelli Shughart. They incorporated the new organization and prepared the application for tax-exempt status from the IRS. VLAA's partnership with the law school, which was conceived by Elizabeth Walsh, assistant dean for student affairs, is a national model.

"VLAA does an excellent job of providing much-needed legal services to artists and arts organizations by pairing law students and local practitioners with these organizations," Smith said. "I have enjoyed the opportunity to give back to the local community by participating in the VLAA mentor program, and each project has been very rewarding." For Hudzik, Smith was the ideal mentor. "It was a terrific learning experience. Matthew set such a great example, and one that I aspire to in the future, of attorneys giving back to the community. He was patient in teaching me the ropes on my first incorporation, but gave me the opportunity to draft the articles and by-laws myself before giving helpful feedback," she said.

While the student and mentor were completing their assignment, Furlow was literally building a new theatre within Chesterfield Mall. "During this hectic time, it was such a pleasure to work with our volunteers. They helped make our start-up process efficient and smooth. We knew we were in good hands," Furlow said.

"Kim was just a joy to work with; it was great to hear about the company's upcoming season and progress toward their new performance space and to share in that excitement. I can't wait to see my first show there!," Hudzik said.

Urban Studio Cafe

When the Urban Studio Cafe won $30,000 in the Skandalaris Center's Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation Competition at Washington University in April, founder Claire Wolff's plan was not simply to fund a coffee shop but also to "brew a strong cup of social change" in Old North St. Louis. The Urban Studio Cafe, which opened its doors in September, is a nonprofit cafe located just an ice cream cone's throw from the venerable Crown Candy Kitchen. Proceeds from cafe sales support community arts and creativity programming — from capoeira (an Afro-Brazilian art form that combines elements of martial arts, music and dance) to photography and from mosaic murals to mixed media projects. Volunteer accountant Jason Pello, senior manager of external reporting at Spartech Corporation, is making a vital contribution to the new cafe. "Basically, I've been helping Claire by setting up QuickBooks to record accounting transactions," Pello said. "We've also discussed business best practice observations from my perspective and experience at other companies." Wolff greatly appreciates Pello's assistance. "Coming from a social work background, it has been great to have someone with accounting expertise helping out," she said. Pello, who has also spoken at several VLAA seminars, is finding the assignment rewarding. "Helping out with nonprofit organizations is always very fulfilling because their members are so passionate about what they do," he said.

Orr Street Studios, Columbia

The envelope addressed to Columbia photographer Anastasia “Stacie” Pottinger arrived in mid-November. Inside was a worksheet written in her own handwriting. With a smile, she read the list. Then, a bigger smile: “I accomplished all my goals,” she said. Articulating those goals was part of a marketing seminar for artists sponsored by St. Louis Volunteer Lawyers and Accountants for the Arts (VLAA) at the Orr Street Studios on April 17, 2009. “Sending the letters is a six-month check-in,” said VLAA’s Executive Director Sue Greenberg, who led the workshop with artist Susan Bostwick. “Writing down your goals is an important first step towards achieving them.” Providing professional development opportunities for working artists in Columbia is one of the services being provided by the fledgling Orr Street Artists Guild. VLAA helped the guild incorporate and obtain tax-exempt status from the IRS. Attorney Jane Lowery, former executive director of the Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts, handled the assignment. “Obtaining tax exemption required the cooperation of many people,” said Elaine Johnson, who served as Orr Street’s director until she relocated to Washington, D.C. “But I am certain that we would not have been successful without the assistance of VLAA. By putting us in touch with Jane Lowery, a professional with great experience in the field, we were able to navigate the many requests made regarding our application and not lose heart in the process!” Twenty-eight artists lease studios at Orr Street, which opened in 2007. The renovation of the former Watkins Roofing building into studio spaces was the brainchild of Columbia architect Mark Timberlake and sculptor Chris Teeter. Teeter created the one-of-a-kind sliding warehouse doors that open into each studio and serves as the new guild’s president. VLAA will be back at Orr Street in April 2010 to host a copyright clinic in collaboration with the University of Missouri’s student Association of Intellectual Property & Entertainment Law. The Columbia Office of Cultural Affairs co-sponsors VLAA's Columbia activities.

Circus Harmony

Statistically, fishermen, steelworkers, roofers, truck drivers, timber cutters and pilots are injured on the job more frequently than circus performers. But paying attention to the nuances of the worker's compensation system is one of Jessica Hentoff's top priorities. Hentoff is the founder and artistic director of Circus Harmony, which "teaches the art of life" through circus education. When an injured employee was about to return to work, she had some thorny questions for an employment lawyer. Robert Kaiser, a partner at Armstrong Teasdale LLP and longtime VLAA volunteer, took the pro bono case. "Our volunteer was helpful, knowledgeable and patient, Hentoff said. "His valuable professional input helped us immensely in a difficult situation." Circus Harmony's performances include aerial, acrobatic, juggling, clowning and equilibristic acts. Each year, the young circus artists present more than 400 shows at City Museum, throughout the St. Louis region and beyond while demonstrating how they can defy gravity, soar with confidence and leap over social barriers.

Collective Nap

Ilyse Magy’s Collective Nap was performed under the Arch on April 5, 2008. Her volunteers, Bryan Cave associates Stephen Casey and Carina Schoenberger, helped her get a permit. “If there is any red tape to your project you think you can’t surmount because you are ‘only an artist,’ contacting VLAA definitely makes the difference. It was an off the wall piece but they were very supportive and non-judgmental, and they really wanted me to be successful,” Magy said. For the team of volunteers, the assignment was a welcome change of pace from their regular practices. “It was really fun to work with an individual artist — that’s not my typical client,” said Schoenberger. “The assignment reminded me that our work is to problem solve, which can sometimes get lost in the legal filings and the paperwork. Working with Ilsye was the perfect example of a college student who had a dream, and we were able to help her.” Casey added, “It was nice to work on a project that with people who were not fighting with each other, which is typical in litigation. It was rewarding to facilitate something that was beneficial for everyone involved. In the end, everyone won. Sometimes lawyers can lose sight of that and this is a great way to remind ourselves why we do it in the first place,” he said. Magy, who graduated from Washington University with a degree in sculpture, lives in San Francisco.

Stray Dog Theatre

“Stray Dog Theatre has often called upon VLAA for assistance in legal and accounting matters, and we have received in return, sound advice and workable solutions,” said Gary F. Bell, artistic director. VLAA helped Bell and co-founder Rob Ogden incorporate their theatre company as a nonprofit, apply for tax-exempt status, obtain Missouri sales tax exemption and set up a bookkeeping system. The seven-year-old company also received assistance with filing tax returns, resolving a dispute with a negligent contractor and answering questions about a raffle. In all, five volunteers haven taken Stray Dog assignments, and Bell and Ogden have attended several VLAA seminars. Their company derives its name from Brodyachaya Sobaka (Stray Dog), a legendary Russian bohemian café frequented by cutting edge artists. Stray Dog makes it home at Tower Grove Abbey, a beautiful century-old church in South St. Louis that is being developed as a multi-use performance center for arts, education and community programs.

"You have performed an arts saving heroic act."
Anna Lum, HEARding Cats


Celebrating 30 Years of Service

To mark our anniversary, we made this video.

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