This week, the United Nations and the World Health Organization teamed up to launch an international open call for artworks about beating COVID-19.
The competition, open now through April 9, asks artists to submit designs that translate “critical public health messages” about the disease. Submissions can take any form—visuals, videos, audio tracks—so long as they capture one of the UN’s five “key messages”: Physical Distancing; Know the Symptoms; Myth Busting; Do More, Donate; and the ever-important Kindness Contagion.
An as-yet-unnamed panel will select a minimum of 10 winners whose work will be shared globally by the UN’s media platforms. The rest of the shortlisted submissions will be made publicly available for download on a dedicated website starting April 22.
“We are in an unprecedented situation and the normal rules no longer apply,” says UN Secretary-General António Guterres on the competition’s website. “We cannot resort to the usual tools in such unusual times. The creativity of the responses must match the unique nature of this crisis—the magnitude of the responses must match its scale.
For many artists the decision to use their talents to help educate the public in this moment of international crisis will be a welcome one. But coming amid unprecedented economic uncertainty, the competition, which doesn’t pay winners, has also stoked a long-simmering debate about exploiting artists’ labor in the guise of public service.
Artists online and in the comments section of the webpage have criticized Talenthouse, the company hosting the competition, for asking for free work.
Many have pointed to a bullet point under the “opportunity” section of the brief, which suggests that entrants will “potentially receive additional exposure through having their work showcased in digital galleries, physical exhibitions amongst other opportunities.” In recent years, the practice of asking artists to work for “exposure” has been widely criticized (there is even a popular Twitter account, @forexposure_txt, that just aggregates the most outrageous examples of the practice).
“Talenthouse would never normally promote an opportunity where the creator’s work is used with no fees attached, but these are unprecedented times,” Talenthouse co-founder Maya Bogle told the online publication Arts Professional when asked about the lack of payment. “All the money donated to the UN is being used to support medical efforts around the world, and while we would normally be the first to champion the payment of proper fees to artists and creatives, it feels like this is the one time to make an exception.”
Talenthouse, which brands itself as a platform for connecting artists with global brands, took over the open call earlier this week after the original competition brief, circulated by the UN through a Google doc, was overwhelmed with “exceptional interest.”
Bogle says that, as of today, Talenthouse has received 2,261 multimedia submissions from around the world, and that she expects “many thousands more” by the deadline on April 9.
Interested artists can submit their designs here.
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