Clark Hill's Joe Voss lends his arts expertise to statewide organization


By Cynthia Price
Legal News


Joe Voss, senior counsel at Clark Hill and practice leader for the firm’s Entertainment Industry Team, covers a lot of bases in the arts and creative fields.

His recent appointment to the board of ArtServe Michigan is just the latest in a series of arts and entertainment involvements that smooth the way for individual artists and “creatives,” advocate for the contribution the arts make in the economy, and integrate the arts into the community at large.

One of those involvements is what led to Voss’s ArtServe appointment.

“I started out as a member of the advisory committee of Lawyers for the Creative Economy. It’s part of ArtServe that offers sort of pro and ‘low’ bono legal services to people in the creative industries,” he explains. 

In fact, just last week Lawyers for the Creative Economy held an event at Kendall College of Art and Design, which Voss helped organize. “We also try to create more dialogue between legal professionals and creative professionals, to really bring down some of the walls — it’s legal referral services plus,” he says.

“I’ve been working to make noise about LCE?on the west side of the state for a while, having an LCE component to ArtPrize for example,” he adds. “But ArtServe has a great relationship with Kendall, too.”

ArtServe, as the leading non-profit advocacy organization in Michigan promoting arts, culture, and arts education,  offers a number of other services to the creative industry as well as the general public.

Jennifer Goulet, President and CEO of ArtServe, says, “Arts and culture are essential ingredients to building vibrant communities and a resilient Michigan economy, shaping creative and innovative young minds and transforming the lives of people of all ages.”

So, perhaps chief among ArtServe’s  programs is the collection of data in order to “comprehensively define and measure the influence of the creative sector and its interrelated segments.” ArtServe calls this Creative State Michigan.

Its latest report indicates that in 2011, creative industries contributed $3.6 billion to the Michigan economy. As Voss points out, ArtServe supports not just fine artists, but such areas as advertising, publishing and print media, design, film, architecture, music and performing arts. Statistics also include organizations such as libraries which undergird cultural heritage, and schools which teach the fine arts. (More information is available at

Kent County is third in the state for economic contributions of arts-related industries (behind Oakland and Wayne, ahead of Washtenaw and Macomb), with $284,462,323 total wages in the sector.

ArtServe also offers services to individual artists, including “Creative Many” professional practice seminars, a bulletin-board-type section for artist (primarily visual artist) opportunities, and assistance with finding and accessing grants and fellowships.

Finally, the organization has a strong communications program to get the word out about legislation affecting the arts, programs to help the arts and individual arts practitioners, and just general good news. 

“The creative industry covers everything from people who design computer games to filmmakers to musicians. It’s expanded to include those who use their talents in for-profit ventures, for example, people who develop commercial films for industries,” Voss says.

“But part of this too is to create an ecosystem where fine artists can ‘eat off their art,’ earn a good living, which is a challenge.”

This is where ArtServe dovetails with Voss’s own legal practice.

While he spends time doing general financing transactional, merger and acquisition, and contract law, even some of Voss’s corporate clients are in industries related to film or creative endeavors, for example, a payroll organization or a chain of theaters. “The industry specific knowledge always helps,” he comments.

With an undergraduate degree in history and religion from Brooklyn College and a J.D. from DePaul University College of Law, Voss first moved to the area from Chicago to start a Grand Rapids office of Ungaretti and Harris. Soon thereafter he started at Clark Hill, which developed from what was in 1996 the largest law firm merger in Michigan history, and traces its origins back to Detroit in the 1890s.

Voss is also a member of the Michigan Film Office Advisory Council and the ACES (Arts, Communications, Entertainment and Sports Law) Section of the Michigan Bar, as well as the Forum on Entertainment and Sports Industries of the American Bar Association.

He writes and presents on arts topics, particularly on the film industry, about which he has deep and broad expertise. Though the climate in the state has changed, Voss remains committed to financing and fostering film.

“There are still production incentives offered by the state — there’s a cap on it now but we’re working from a $50 million annual allocation. But they used to be tax credits, and now it’s a grant program. It’s a little bit trickier to finance projects with grants; lenders like tax credits more than they like grants. It will be in place this way until at least 2017.”

With Voss on their side, film companies will know about every innovative financing avenue available to them. From crowdfunding to the ins-and-outs of distribution and what that means for project development, he is an encyclopedia of knowledge, and stresses that flexibility is the key.

“Every project’s different,” he says. “From a financial standpoint, people’s reasons for making a film are a mixed bag. Some just really want people to see it, get the broadest possible distribution, while others want to get more of a profit.”

Voss says about 75% of his work is in documentary films, media distribution, digital media, and forging related types of agreements.

One of the projects nearest and dearest to Voss’s heart is Clark Hill's E2 Emerging Enterprises + Entrepreneurs.

“We’re doing startup and second stage legal representation work for flat fees, payable over time. So essentially clients have access to a 300-lawyer firm to help them with starting up, growing, marketing, and building up engagements,” Voss says.

As far as ArtServe, he says he looks forward to getting to know the full organizational culture better, but “I assume it’s going to be a lot of fund-raising and friend-raising.” Along those lines, he emphasizes that Lawyers for the Creative Economy is always seeking additional attorneys.