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Terms of Art: effecting viral social change

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ArtThis column typically features attorneys who juggle artistic pursuits along with their professional duties. In the case of Indianapolis native Kenan Farrell, we find an attorney who changed course during his legal career in order to devote his talents and abilities to representing the underserved arts community. Through ardent civic involvement, inspired use of social media, community service and teaching, his efforts have contributed significantly to raising the profile of local civic arts organizations, teaching a new generation of attorneys to be “arts-minded,” and contributing to the cultural richness and appeal of our city.

There is a quote most often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

Growing up in Indianapolis, Farrell often bristled when he heard people complain that there was “no culture” here. A creative person, he has always had an affinity for the arts. “Like many attorneys, I consider myself a writer. I’ve always been creative. I used to write poems, songs – I can get along better with creative people – I understand them,” Farrell says. The walls of his beautiful Mass Ave. office prominently feature his clients’ works.

Farrell earned his law degree in 2003 from the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law. Upon graduation, he joined the intellectual property practice group at Bingham McHale. Irony of ironies, the law that protects creativity and cutting-edge innovation can be “very technical and dry.” Acknowledging that “there are all types of lawyers and all types of legal services that need to be done,” Farrell need look no further than his own brother – an international tax attorney who loves his work – to illustrate his point. That said, being a patent attorney “didn’t light any fires” under Farrell. A typical day as an intellectual property associate could involve meeting with a researcher to discuss his or her patent needs. With his undergraduate background in genetics, Farrell was certainly up to the task, but something was lacking.

In 2007, Farrell moved to California. He recalls that while in San Francisco, he observed local attorneys building their practices around serving the needs of painters, photographers, authors, graphic artists, web developers and other “creative entrepreneurs.” “I realized that this need wasn’t getting met in Indianapolis,” he says. Farrell returned to Indianapolis in 2009 and launched his solo practice. He now represents clients in music, film, theater, television, book publishing and the visual arts, both in the United States and abroad. He devotes his talents to empowering artists and developers in their efforts to advance and protect their works and innovations.

Farrell has a unique approach to client development, which dovetails nicely with his passion for community-building. He has long believed that Indianapolis has all the elements necessary for a Midwestern cultural haven. He explains that “[i]n Indiana, people work together, there’s a lot more collaboration.” Like many attorneys, he is in frequent contact with his clients; however, every few months, he hosts a party, providing an opportunity for his clients to network and socialize with one another. “I get to talk to my clients one-on-one all the time, but at the parties, I bring them all together, and let them talk to each other. It’s good creative energy to see a musician talk to a painter, or a writer talk to a hair salon owner,” he says.

He has even added the title of “professor” to his resume, teaching “Art and Museum Law” at the Robert H. McKinney School of Law. He says, “I recognize that I can’t do this by myself. In a class of 20 or 25 students, I know that they won’t all be arts lawyers,” but Farrell is ensuring that his students emerge from law school with an awareness of the needs of the arts community as well as critical knowledge necessary to serve those needs. Farrell also serves on countless civic boards and organizations, including Pattern for fashion industry insiders, the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, and the Indianapolis Downtown Artists and Dealers Association. His efforts have not gone unrecognized. He has received various local awards, including in 2011 being named one of Indy’s Best and Brightest Finalists by Junior Achievement of Central Indiana, Inc.; a Leadership in Law Up and Coming Lawyer by the Indiana Lawyer; YPCI Young Professional of the Year for 2011; and inclusion in the Indianapolis Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 for 2012.

Farrell does more than his fair share to make his beloved hometown more hospitable to the arts and to the arts community. Gone are the days of feeling unfulfilled by work. Admittedly, he adds, “Patent attorneys make a lot more money, and if that was my driving goal, I’d probably still be a patent attorney. But that’s not what I wanted.” His advice to his law students resonates equally with seasoned practitioners – “Pick an organization, and get actively involved from day one.”

“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”

– From “The Collected Works of M. K. Gandhi”

Wandini Riggins is an associate in the Indianapolis firm of Lewis Wagner LLP. She concentrates her practice in the areas of insurance coverage and immigration. She can be reached at wriggins@lewiswagner.com. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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