H&M Caught Trying To Pay Student Artists In Gift Cards

Swedish retailer of fast fashion to the world H&M is doing damage control this morning after word leaked that it was trying to pay student artist in gift cards for helping them beautify the construction site of a new store. Students, predictably, weren’t enthused about the idea.

The retailer started a competition called “Toronto Loves Fashion! Fashion Loves Toronto!” Canada’s top art school, Ontario College for Art and Design (OCAD) has called upon third- and fourth-year students and recent graduates of the digital painting program to submit work to be displayed on the temporary walls that will be put up during the construction, which will last into 2016.

The advertisement says eight winning artists, determined by a balanced panel of H&M and OCAD University representatives, will be awarded “lots of exposure,” and a $500 gift card to H&M.

Students are upset that company making billions in profit won’t pay them fairly.

“It’s not a good deal,” says Keith Eager, a 27-year-old student in OCAD’s printmaking program. “I think it’s undervaluing what the students are doing.”

Jessica Baldanza, who is just about to graduate from the painting and drawing program, echoed Eager’s opinion.

“This contributes to the problem of artists not being paid for their work,” the 21-year-old says, adding that, in her experience, examples of that outside of this competition are numerous. “I think, to some people, (art) seems superfluous and unnecessary, like something you do for fun.”

Anda Kubis, associate dean of OCAD’s faculty of art, said that the competition really does offer a great opportunity for students and exposure is valuable to the aspiring artists.

“This is not about finances for us,” Kubis says “It’s fantastic exposure (for students) at a pivotal location in downtown Toronto.”

Kubis said winning artists may be able to get shows, commissions or even more work from H&M by having their art displayed in Dundas Square though its questionable, given the one time nature of the need, that this would actually take place. The final display will include the eight winning 3-foot-6 by 6 ft digital paintings accompanied by a short artist statement and biography, and a short note on the school’s new digital painting and expanded animation program.

Baldanza says the promise of exposure is no substitute for pay.

“Exposure is not a reliable enough form of compensation,” she says. “It’s not guaranteed. It’s a way for people to avoid paying for artists.”

This problem is magnified because H&M will have a full license for the work in perpetuity. As a reference point, Getty Images charges $600 for the use of one stock photograph for five years in one single application, such as on a corporate website. Any other uses would cost thousands of dollars more.

The contract students are forced to sign in order to enter their work stipulates that H&M owns the winning pieces and has the right to “copy and/or reproduce the artwork for the purposes of promotion,” but the students “retain their copyright and moral rights,” and, if H&M chooses to reproduce the work for commercial sale, there will be a “discussion in good faith.”

The display will be installed before construction on the store begins on May 29.

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