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How to pay an artist with "exposure"


 If you have the chutzpah to ask an artist to work for exposure (see also: "free"; "experience"; "no pay but we'll feed you a dry chicken breast and some green beans out of a can that have been sprinkled with almonds to make them look fancy"), be prepared to be answered with scorn, ridicule, and possibly a few obscene gestures. Asking artists to work for nothing but the nebulous promise of  "exposure" may be a time-honored tradition, but it's one whose time has come and gone, especially in this economy when it's harder and harder for artists to provide that which everyone seems to want and no one wants to pay for. If we artists had a real paycheck for every time we've been asked to work for "exposure", we might be able to afford a few luxuries in life, like paying off our student loans, buying health insurance, or paying the heating bill. 

 What's the big deal, besides the fact that professionals should be paid for their work and there is no other profession in which the workers are so frequently and regularly asked to work for no money as a matter of course? Well, several things. It devalues art as a whole.  It drives talented people out of the business and encourages dilettantes to take their place. It makes for bad art. 

It removes beauty from the world. And if you don't think that's important, spend a week without listening to music, reading a book or newspaper, watching TV, going to a store. In fact, you'll basically have to go into solitary confinement, because art is so entrenched in your daily life that you can't NOT consume it. And the people who made it do not work for "exposure".

"Exposure" is always nebulous, never defined. What you mean by it is, maybe someone important will just happen to come in contact with the artist's work and they'll  get their big break. You're saying, maybe someone ELSE will eventually pay you. Not me. God no, not me. Let's be real here, shall we? Asking an artist to work for free is a dick move. If you do it, you are a cheapskate and a mooch who preys on the dreams of others.  

But here's the good news: there's a way to meet your project's bottom line, get art, and not be a dick. Artists are incredibly generous people, and they want to give back to their communities. They also want to eat and pay their bills. So help them out. Even if you really can't pay money, there is a right and wrong way to ask for donations. Asking artists to work for  laughable, pathetic, rude "exposure" is the wrong way.

Here's how to do it right.

If you are asking an artist to work for no money, you need to offer other forms of compensation.  (Pro tip: a shitty meal doesn't count). Here are some possibilities.

Publicize that artist in concrete ways, and do it big. 

  • Include the artist's name, photo, website URL, and a short blurb in your newsletter, on your website, social media, email blasts, and on all publicity surrounding the event. Prominently. 
  • Include the artist's name in any media ads.
  • If you have a program for the event, the artist's photo and bio should be included, along with a printed thank you.
  • If you don't have a program, there should be a placard on an easel with the artist's photo, name, and URL.
  • You should publicly thank the artist at the event and mention that they are available for hire and how to get in touch with them. Speak to the artist before hand and find out how they like to be publicized. Do it just the way they ask. 
  • You should publicize the artist's upcoming events to your membership.

Offer access to your membership or audience.

  • Share your mailing list with the artist.
  • If you don't want to share your mailing list, offer to include advertisements/notices from the artist in X number of future mailings.
  • Take the time to discover the artist's ongoing needs and introduce them to members of your organization who might be able to help them. 

Offer free access to your space.

  • If you have a dedicated space you regularly use, such as a church building, museum, office building with lobby, or restaurant, you should offer to make that space available to the artist free of charge at a mutually agreeable time, so the artist can do a concert, have a showing, etc. 

Offer free services.

  • If you have no problem asking someone else to work for free, you should have no problem working for free yourself or asking your members to do it. What does your organization or its members do that you could do for the artist? 
  • A  few ideas for things you could offer: printing services; temporary use of office space; financial or legal advising; graphic design services; web hosting and design; temporary housing in a city the artist is traveling to for work; health care; donated frequent flier miles.
  • Ask yourself what you would need if you were running a small startup. Look around at your organization and your membership. What can you offer? 

Offer support.

  • Promise to make sure X number of people from your organization buy tickets to the artist's upcoming event. You like them well enough to have them be part of your event, you should like them well enough to attend theirs.
  • Ask your members to like the artist's Facebook page, follow them on Twitter and Instagram, and subscribe to their mailing list. 

Ask the artist what they need. 

  • If nothing else, ask the artist what you could do for them in lieu of actual dollars. 

And moving forward: make art a line item in your budget. Include it in your fundraising. Ask a donor for a specific contribution so you can pay an artist for your next event. 

If you like art, respect it, and respect the artist. You may not be able to pay, but you can most certainly compensate. 

Don't be a dick.