As a former collections manager of a university art collection, one of my favorite things about that position had been making connections. To the casual observer, that may sound strange, because after all, the connections I am talking about are between people and art. For example, I worked with donors who were gifting work to the university, but I also would help share that same work with the local university community. My office worked closely to select the right work to install in public spaces that people could learn from and enjoy. Introducing people to art, and integrating art in unexpected but thoughtful ways, was a lot like matchmaking. Understanding what could and could not work, and then figuring out a way to integrate someone’s wants and needs into the equation, was a puzzle I liked to tackle. Later, when I took the plunge and went to law school, I knew that I needed to keep art in my life. Although I did not know then just how to build an arts-focused practice, I knew I would have to be creative, because there was no clear career path for arts lawyers.
As luck would have it, right before I graduated law school, I met Dina Leytes, an intellectual property attorney who worked at a distinctive and fast-growing firm in Philadelphia that was looking for a first-year associate. The women-owned-and-operated law firm, Griesing Law, LLC, is unique for many reasons, including its support for local artists and arts organizations. Six months into my career as an attorney, I am able to focus on areas where art and the law frequently intersect: intellectual property, employment, and nonprofit law, just to name a few.
When I first met Fran Griesing, she enthusiastically took me on a tour of her firm’s art exhibition. She proudly informed me that shortly after the firm opened its doors in January 2010, it created a program that bi-annually rotated artwork from local artists. The shows have featured various artists, on some occasions more than one at a time, working in different media. Fran and Jessica Mazzeo, another founding member of team and the firm’s director of administration, work closely with local gallerists and curators to bring artwork into the office. The firm also holds an opening night networking reception each time new artwork is displayed on the walls. The goal of the program is to open the space to the community, and to create an environment where people can connect with art, and with each other. Also, because the work is in such a unique setting, the featured artists are able to showcase their pieces to a broader audience than normally would be available to them. At the end of each exhibition, more than a few discrete red dots will be on the wall indicating pieces that sold. Often, a client or visitor to the exhibition will leave with insight on a piece that resonated with them, or with a business card for a follow-up consultation with some of the designers and creative individuals with whom the firm works or advises.
Some weeks after that initial meeting, Fran and I attended a lecture at the Barnes Foundation. As we stood in front of a small but inviting work by Monet, Fran explained one of the reasons she started the firm’s art series.
“At my first legal job, I was allowed to pick a work from the firm’s ‘art closet.’ The work was a Monet print. I had never grown up with art in the house, and it was new for me. The colors and visual experience of that Monet had such an impact on me, that when I decided to start my own firm I integrated the colors of that painting into the wall colors, and our website branding and business cards. I realize that art has this great power to connect people to each other, build bridges, and spark conversations. I wanted to create an environment where people felt welcome to enjoy each other’s company, and make connections while experiencing something different.”
Having attended two openings myself at Griesing Law, I can personally attest that they are one of a kind. The audience is the true meaning of diverse. It is the kind of party where bow-ties mingle with accent scarves and artful sneakers. Lawyers, clients, the creative community, friends, and family come to celebrate the work and reconnect. The current exhibition, titled City Bites, which opened in March (doubling as a celebration of the firm’s fifth anniversary), features artists that draw inspiration from food and drink available at local restaurants. This was the perfect complement, since the firm has several clients within the hospitality, craft beer, and spirits industries. It was only fitting that Jessica decided that the “bites” the party guests enjoyed mimicked the bites depicted in the art on the walls. As a nod to the arts clients, another local artist drew fashion-focused portraits of each guest to take home.
Leading up to City Bites, I was in my office working on an employment matter for a local arts organization when the doorbell rang. To my happy surprise, on the other side was an art handler with whom I had frequently worked in the past. We greeted each other with hugs, and she announced that she was here for Jessica, to de-install the old show, and install the next one. As she and her business partner packed the paintings, I smiled as I remembered previous moments where she and I had worked together to remove and rehang work, and to bring new visual experiences into spaces. It was a full circle moment for me, and reminded me of some of the great things about working in and with the intersected Philadelphia arts community. An older relationship was being re-contextualized, and previous ties were mixing seamlessly with new ones. New art was coming in for a fresh set of eyes to see and connect with. New conversations were to be had, and new connections were to be built. Needless to say, I am excited to see what new work—legal and arts—I will have the opportunity to experience and share as I continue to build my legal career and grow as an arts attorney.
About the Author
Christine E. Weller is an associate at Griesing Law, LLC where she focuses on new media, intellectual property, nonprofit, employment law, and hospitality matters. You can reach Christine at 215.732.3923 or firstname.lastname@example.org.