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In the Family: An Art Law Interview with Christina Pannos

I know it is not a shock to anyone that’s met me, but I come from an extended family full of lawyers. I think my dad secretly trained me into being a lawyer because I certainly argue like one. Despite the family tradition, I eventually worked my way into the arts and, with the guidance of my older cousin, found a home here. That cousin, Christina Pannos, is the perfect combination of my dad and me professionally. She is who I want to be someday. Today, Christina works as an art law professor using what she learned as a lawyer alongside her experiences as an art gallery director to provide real life situations and training to her students. So as we dive into the complicated world of art law during our Law and Art: Simplifying the Complex panel at this year’s Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium I thought ‘who better to simply explain art law as an arts manager than Christina!’ I hope you enjoy our conversation.

Helene Genetos: Christina, I know your career and your arts journey. Can you tell our readers about your background and how you got interested in art law?

Christina Pannos: I studied anthropology and archaeology at Northwestern University. On my first day of an archaeology class, the professor went around the room and asked each of us why we were taking her course. My answer was to learn more about my Greek heritage and save the Parthenon Marbles. I have always loved history, art and museums and what better way to help preserve the past than by protecting cultural heritage as an art lawyer.

After college, I went straight to law school at DePaul University, a school well recognized for its program in art and cultural heritage law. I continued my education with a Masters in Art Business from Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London. Upon returning to Chicago, I took a position as a manager in an art gallery and became the Director after a year of juggling a multitude of tasks. Working directly in the art market gave me the confidence, the knowledge, and the connections to develop my practice as an art lawyer. Now, I share some of that know how with my students. I have happily returned to academia to teach a legal writing course called Art Market Transactions at DePaul University College of Law.

HG: I’m loving watching you in teaching mode. You can see how much it inspires and motivates you. You were telling me about how you try to have your assignments match what students will see in the workplace. What were some situations where your legal background helped you out in the arts world?

CP: Every assignment I give has some real life connection to situations I have encountered in the art world. Though, I do change the names to protect the innocent. Knowing how to read a contract is always a great skill, and in particular, being able to translate the legalese. So many transactions in the art world used to be executed by a handshake, and some still are, but arts administrators are leaning more towards protecting their assets these days and are using contracts.

Also, my knowledge of corporate governance, commercial real estate, and power of attorney definitely came in handy.

HG: What do you wish you knew more about as a gallery director?

CP: I certainly learned to multi-task. Quickly. Being a director required so many skills from relationship building with clients and artists, acting as a travel agent, bookkeeping, managing staff, event planning to reading a bill of lading. Sometimes in different languages. I loved every minute of it. Be open to learning and working with people. And expect the unexpected!

HG: Since you studied with Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London as well as in the states, what were the biggest differences in the management of legal issues between the two countries? What were the best lessons you learned from an international education?

CP: My international education exposed me to people with innumerably different backgrounds. I learned to listen, be patient, and learn from the diversity. While the US and UK both operate under the common law system, art is definitely defined and protected differently in each country. The civil law countries such as France and Italy differ even further.

For example, the US has only recently recognized an artist’s moral right with the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (VARA). This act recognizes an artist’s rights of attribution and integrity. In France, the rights of artists are much more broadly protected, and have been respected for hundreds of years. France recognizes attribution and integrity, as well as the right of publication and the right to correct or withdraw works previously on public view.

Copyright law in the US and UK, while sharing similar principles of balancing the protection of copyright holders with other interests, differ in legislative wording. This is most notably with regard to copyright exceptions. The US uses the Fair Use test, permitting a broad interpretation of allowable uses of copyrighted material. In the UK, the standard is Fair Dealing, which specifically enumerates an exhaustive list of exceptions.

HG: As a professor and a practitioner, what are the biggest takeaways you hope your students learn to help them as professionals?

CP: Professionalism. In our world of instant access and technology that eases workloads, students and practitioners alike sometimes forget the power of a handwritten note or a perfectly proofread memo (spellcheck doesn’t catch everything). Also, people skills. Remember that you are ultimately working with people as a lawyer or art professional. Art is a personal business. Be patient, listen, know what your clients like. Be thoughtful. Be prepared.

HG: I cannot help, but be reminded by our shared Sotheby’s professor, Henry Lydiate, shouting “Reputation! Reputation! Reputation!” at the end of that answer. What are the most pressing concerns for arts managers and artists to be aware of from a legal standpoint?

CP: The law is constantly changing. Awareness of the market is essential. If you aren’t sure, find a lawyer who is.

HG: What legal and in particular arts law resources are available to arts managers?

CP: There is a multitude of art law blogs written not just for legal audiences. You will never stop researching, even after you turn in your final paper. Sign up and get the newsletters in your inbox. Then you have no excuses. Here are some of the sites I refer to most frequently: Art Law Blog (Donn Zaretsky), Cultural Heritage Lawyer (Rick St. Hilaire), Art Law Report (Nicholas O’Donnell), Art Market Monitor, and Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation.

HG: As we are geared toward emerging arts leaders, what are some pieces of advice you have for them or what did you wish you knew when you were starting out?

CP: If you want to be in the art world, get involved in art. Go see shows that interest you. Find artists you like and follow their work. Surround yourself with art and you will make invaluable connections with likeminded individuals, whether gallerists, artists, collectors or other market practitioners. Enjoy it!

Christina and I making our fathers proud at a White Sox game

You can see why she is my favorite* cousin with advise and insights like these. Plus, it helps that she knows where to find good art, food, and cultural activities in any city. If you have more questions, join that Law and Art: Simplifying the Complex panel at the Emerging Arts Leaders Symposium this year and feel free to ask our four experts about the legal issues in visual arts, music, film and governance.

*Please no one send this to the rest of my family. I’m the essentially the baby of the bunch, and I don’t want to get picked any more than I already do.

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