A Pandemic Is All The More Reason To Resist “For The Exposure”

One of the concerns I have had with so many artists providing their talent and content for free over the internet while people are sequestered at home during the coronavirus epidemic is that there would be an expectation that it would all continue to be free as we transitioned away from this situation.

I have seen a couple articles addressing the practice of artists contributing their talents to the general effort to combat the virus.

The first comes from Arts Professional UK which drew attention to a call to artists from the UN. The UN is looking for creative ways to communicate the necessity of good hygiene & social distancing practices as well as dispel different myths to people in different cultures.  While it is prudent to craft messages that are specific to each culture rather than one size fits all, the issue is that the UN wanted the creatives to do it for the exposure.

“You have the power to change the world”, artists have been told, and “the UN needs your help to stop the spread of coronavirus.” It is asking creatives to submit “a range of creative solutions to reach audiences across different age groups, affiliations, geographies and languages”.

No fees are being offered for the work, which is viewed as an opportunity for creatives to contribute to the global fight against the pandemic while raising their profile across the world, including among major corporations.

While the company coordinating this for the UN says they “…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,” this still sounds a little exploitative during a time when artists are experiencing a difficult time. Exposure is only gonna get you sick without the ability to pay your bills.

On the other hand, a felt a little differently when I read about an effort by Broadway Cares to stream a concert of Disney show recorded back in November as a fundraiser for a Covid-19 emergency assistance fund.  The Actors’ Equity & SAG-AFTRA unions agreed to waive fees but the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) refused to do so despite the willingness of the 15 musicians who performed in the concert and the president of the local to allow it to be streamed without a fee.  The musicians had been paid for the performance back in November, but AFM president Ray Hair felt that in these times in which artists find themselves in difficult financial straits, the organizers should be willing to pay.

The result is, the fundraiser won’t be able to go forward.

If you are going by the general standards I espoused in the UN example, you should want the artists to be paid. The fact were already paid once shouldn’t necessarily factor into it as there are a lot of unfair situations which deprive artists of royalties on recorded content. Nor should the fact the musicians are willing to forgo payment necessarily make it okay since there are plenty of artists in the UN example who are willing to do it for the exposure when they really ought to be paid for their work.

These two examples show how difficult it is to employ uniform standards in relation to fair remuneration for artists.

For me, there was an option Broadway Cares presented that I felt should have provided a fairly equitable win-win situation for everyone. Because of most favored nations contract clauses, Broadway Cares can’t pay the musicians without then needing to pay members of the other two unions who participated in the November event. However, Broadway Cares offered to make a $25,000 payment to the musicians’ emergency fund on top of the $50,000 it had already given to musician assistance programs. This amount would have been more than they would have paid the 15 musicians and benefit a wider range of musicians who were facing these difficult times.  That offer was also refused.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker (artshacker.com) website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (http://www.creatingconnection.org/about/)

I am currently the Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.

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