Here's an anecdote:

Our local public radio station, KAZU, recently invited artists to enter a
contest to design a mug that will be given to donors as a thank-you gift
during their on-air pledge drive. I wrote the station a letter (the text of
which is included, below) explaining why these contests are unfair to
artists. I was pleasantly surprised when the manager of the station wrote
me right back and asked to talk on the phone. I'm happy to say that he
listened attentively, and said he hadn't really thought of things this way
before. When he asked if I thought that paying the winner would fix the
problem, I said that it would certainly help the winner of the contest, but
that it didn't get at the root of the problem -- i.e., all the other
artists that would have done the work for nothing. I told him what would be
better would be to simply hire an artist and pay him or her for their work.

During our conversation, I used the analogy that it would be like asking
restaurant businesses to compete to donate *food* for the pledge drive. As
in, "Okay, you guys go ahead and make the food you want to donate, bring it
all over, and then we'll look at all the donations and pick the food we
like best. Be sure to do a nice job, because this is a contest, and if you
win, we'll mention your business on the air! If we don't pick your
donation, however, then tough luck -- you'll get nothing for all your
trouble. Sorry, too, for all the wasted time, effort and resources you'll
have put into it." This analogy (as well as a few key phrases quoted from
Tim Kreider's wonderfully-articulate NYT op-ed article:
-- helped get the message across!

The station manager and I agreed that it'd be awkward to go on the air and
cancel the contest at this point, but he did agree that KAZU would not hold
any more such contests in future.

Here's to small victories. (And I didn't even have to cancel my

*my letter to the radio station*:

Dear KAZU,

I've been a proud member of KAZU for over a decade, but I am writing to
tell you how dismayed I was to hear that KAZU is holding a "design
competition" to acquire free artwork for a mug that will be offered to its

Citing such incentives as "we want to involve you in what we do" and "this
is a way you can leave a lasting impression on KAZU Public Radio", KAZU is,
in fact, asking any number of artist/designers to spend their valuable work
time and creative energy on something that, for all but one of them, will
result in no (absolutely zero) reward, and which for one "lucky" winner
will result in "significant on-air mentions during the Fall 2015 and Spring
2016 membership drives" -- or, in other words, no monetary compensation

These types of contests are inherently unfair to artists who, despite the
myth of "getting paid to play all day", are actually highly-skilled
professionals who work long hours, often for modest pay. By holding a
"design competition", you are taking advantage of a large number of
creative people, (slimly) rewarding only one of them, and acquiring your
very own custom mug-design for free.

This is completely different from a situation in which you might approach
an artist whose work you like and ask them to create *and even donate* a
design you fully intend to use. In such a case, the artist would at least
know from the outset that his or her work would end up being used for its
intended purpose, that it would not have been created for nothing, and
would -- presumably -- reach an audience the artist has deemed valuable to
the development of his or her business.

As mentioned above, I have been a member of KAZU for many years. This issue
is of such moral and professional importance to me, however, that I regret
to say I will not be renewing my membership. Until I'm assured that the
station will no longer hold "competitions" that endeavor to induce creative
people to work purely on speculation, I'll not only withhold my own
membership but will strongly encourage my colleagues and illustration
students (as well as their friends and associates) not to support a radio
station that endeavors to take advantage of people in creative professions.

For additional discussion on how spec work harms artists/designers as well
as the outcome of design projects themselves, please read more at (a site with which I have no personal affiliation).

I look forward to a response from KAZU regarding this issue.

Jenny Keller

On Fri, Jun 12, 2015 at 7:47 AM, Emily S. Damstra <[log in to unmask]>

> Gail,
> Yes, I'll volunteer to work on the journal article. Off-list, perhaps you
> could let me know what the next couple deadlines are. (It might take me
> awhile).
> To everyone else,
> If you have an anecdote about participating in a contest, I'd love to hear
> it. Off-list is fine if you'd prefer. (I could refrain from using your name
> in the article if you request).
> Also, if you know of any exploitative contests happening now, or that have
> happened recently, it'd be good to have a short list of examples for the
> article. Please let me know.
> Thanks!
> ---
> *Emily S. Damstra*
> natural science illustration
> Guelph, Ontario
> (519) 616-3654
> *[log in to unmask] <[log in to unmask]>*
> Twitter: @EmilyDamstra
> On Thu, Jun 11, 2015 at 10:57 AM, Gail Guth <[log in to unmask]>
> wrote:
>>  The article will provide a great immediate resource for our members,
>> and it will be an excellent foundation for a web page on this topic. We can
>> work with the author on crafting solid and clear guidelines and
>> positions, and use it as a springboard for further discussion and input
>> before we post online.
>> Do we have a volunteer? [Remember: publishing in the Journal is good for
>> your resumé!, besides being a good thing for all of us!]
>> Gail
> ________________________________________________
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Jenny Keller
Program Coordinator and Instructor, Science Illustration Program
CSU Monterey Bay • 100 Campus Center • Seaside, CA 93955-8001
(831) 582-3480 • (831) 582-4502 fax •

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