Inspired by the intensified repression of artistic freedom in Eastern Europe, Berkeley Law student Annabelle Wilmott launched pro bono project Arts and Innovation Representation, or AIR, to increase safeguards for international artists and allow law students to investigate foreign artistic repression.
Wilmott launched AIR after working with the Artistic Freedom Initiative, or AFI, a New York organization that represents censored or persecuted artists across the globe. Passionate about the work of AFI, Wilmott joined the organization’s efforts with Berkeley Law by co-founding AIR with friend and collaborator Jonathan Abrams.
Wilmott began work on AIR during her first semester at Berkeley Law.
“At the time, the law school didn’t have any pro bono projects focused on the arts or free expression,” Wilmott said in an email. “I knew that AFI had been considering expanding its efforts to monitor artistic freedom violations, so I jumped at the opportunity to bridge these worlds.”
After reaching out to AFI to collaborate with Berkeley Law, she met two other students, Veronica Bognot and Alix Vadot, who were interested in starting a pro bono project supervised by California Lawyers for the Arts. The three, partnered with Abrams, officially launched the project in the fall of 2020.
The project, while not giving direct legal representation, works with AFI and California Lawyers for the Arts in its mission to understand and advocate against the roots of artistic repression, Wilmott said.
Much of the project’s work has centered on artistic repression in Eastern Europe, particularly in Hungary. According to a Berkeley Law press release, students involved in AIR “played a huge role” in a report entitled “Systematic Suppression: Hungary’s Arts and Culture in Crisis.”
The report detailed many of the ways in which prime minister Viktor Orbán and his political party, Fidesz, have altered Hungary’s governmental systems to put artists at risk.
Abrams noted that because law students were conducting the research, it was logical to focus on the way legal systems were being manipulated into something that quieted artistic expression in Hungary. Additionally, he emphasized that the students hoped to use international human rights law to draw attention to the plight of Hungarian artists.
Since the report, many students have been working on similar projects about artistic repression in Latin American countries, according to Wilmott.
“There are so many areas of the world where illiberal regimes are trying to suppress artistic freedom,” Abrams said of a new report on artistic freedom in Colombia. “Drawing attention to these abuses of power is a crucial step toward providing assistance to artists in those countries.