Drawing the line on a sketchy TTC ad campaign

I’ve got news for businesses trying to mooch off creative professionals: starving artists die from this kind of exposure

I was on the subway recently, enjoying some of the lovely art created by local artists as part of the TTC’s Sketching The Line campaign. Curious to find out if the artists were paid for their contributions, I submitted a query through the artintransit.ca website listed on the posters and got a timely answer from Antonina MacDonald, sponsorships and events specialist for Pattison, the outdoor advertising giant.

“They are not compensated… in the form of money. It [compensation] is provided in the form of exposure on our subways and buses.”

This was not the answer I had expected from Canada’s largest outdoor advertising company that’s part of an international corporation with 39,000 employees worldwide and annual sales that have grown to $8.4 billion annually. 

Well, I’ve got news for Pattison and any other businesses trying to mooch off creative professionals: artists die from this kind of exposure! There’s even a twitter account trying to recruit them with the expectation that they will work for free and supposedly reap huge benefits from all the exposure. 

But exposure does not pay for food, materials, gas or rent. 

Try walking into a restaurant and telling the owner that by giving you free food, it will be great exposure for the business. Yet more than a few restaurant owners expect musicians will line up to perform for paying customers without even expecting a meal in exchange. How lovely.

I bet if I walked into a subway station and told the attendant that my art is hanging in the TTC and that I, a now famous artist, should be allowed to ride for free because I have helped the TTC gain great PR, he or she would look at me like I was a rotten turnip and demand payment.

It’s not just artists being asked to work for free. All kinds of businesses want you to fetch coffee, write copy, tend bar, prepare presentations, design graphics, keep their books, perform investor analysis and heaven knows what else, all for free. 

Search the words “intern” or “unpaid” in the jobs sections of Craigslist or Kijiji and what turns up is an alarming number of hits – and they are overwhelmingly not associated with any school or educational programs for credit, just incredibly cheap people expecting you to work for them for free.

Some would have you believe that there just might be a paying job later. Who the hell are they kidding?

One of my favourite authors, Harlan Ellison, said it best in the documentary Dreams With Sharp Teeth: there is no value in publicity for starving artists. 


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