February 17, 2011

Report by Whitney Butcher, ’12
On the 2011 Public Law & Leadership course at Elon Law

As part of the Public Law and Leadership Winter Term course, I had the pleasure of working with Elsewhere Collaborative, a former thrift shop located in downtown Greensboro that currently hosts artists from across the country and around the world.

Elsewhere began as a thrift store in the 1930’s with its owner, Sylvia Gray, collecting treasures from the World War II era. Sylvia’s grandson, George, re-ignited the thrift store, sifting through and organizing his grandmother’s belongings.

In 2003 Elsewhere, as it is known today, was born. Elsewhere currently selects a wide variety of artists to come to the former thrift store and work from Sylvia’s collection and create collaborative pieces to be housed in the space.

Elsewhere sought our help in advising it how best to structure its relationships with the artists—the curators, apprentices, and interns—that come to work in the collaborative. Looking first to employment law and labor relations, our group researched the best way for Elsewhere to structure those relationships, the pros and cons of each structure, and ultimately came to a consensus on what the best structure should be. Each member of our group took the initiative to research a different area of employment law that would presumably affect our client. Our memorandum to the client discussed our recommendations of how Elsewhere should structure its relationships with the artists, potential liability issues, compliance with existing labor laws, and we presented Elsewhere with a sample contract based on our recommendations for its relationships with each of the artist positions.

Our group focused on recommending a way for Elsewhere to structure its relationships that would not only be most beneficial to Elsewhere and its artists, but would also further Elsewhere’s overall vision. Through several group discussions, we came to view that vision as promoting living art that is the culmination of each individuals artists’ unique experiences and interpretations while each artist retains some control over the creative process. Our group was able to tour Elsewhere, interact with the space, and spend a significant amount of time with George, one of the directors and founders. As a result, we each felt invested in the project and were able to develop an idea of what Elsewhere is trying to accomplish and the collaborative working environment it hopes to promote. We were tempted to focus on a wide range of employment issues, but at the urging of our Senior Partner, we focused our analysis to the structuring of the relationships.

Our group found that structuring Elsewhere’s relationships with its curators and apprentices as Independent Contractors would limit Elsewhere’s liability, promote the artists’ flexibility and fluidity in creating their work, and also provide for the most flexibility in the temporary employment relationship between Elsewhere and its artists. We advised the client to be wary of the amount of financial and behavioral control it maintains over the artists, as more control may suggest that an employer-employee relationship exists. In contrast, we recommended Elsewhere structure its evolving relationship with the interns as a volunteer relationship since the role of the interns is less defined.

Overall, my work with Elsewhere provided both a practical and enjoyable experience. Our group met with the client, defined the core issues it needed help with, and worked together to research and advise our client on the best solution. In addition, we had the opportunity to enter the world of Elsewhere and, to our delight, find a little creativity.