A 2013 arts festival, and how it all went down

Puppet Parade - 16x20" in., oils on canvas
Puppet Parade – 16×20″ in., oils on canvas

This is a letter I’ve sent to the festival organization.

Read it as a cautionary tale, as I do — both artists and arts festival organizers may want to take heed.


To the Arts Festival:

On January 22 of this year I received an email from [your arts festival] director, inviting me to be featured/guest artist. I was told I’d be given a special booth, and my credited work would be used on the posters, ads, etc. Loving [your] festival as I did, I happily accepted.

Only after I’d accepted was I told, during a follow-up phone conversation with the director, that I’d be expected to donate the signature work of art, to be raffled off as a benefit for the festival. Donation of the reproduction rights was not acceptable, she clarified later by email – I was required to donate the original work of art itself.

Some previous featured artists donated existing works, she said, some produced a work especially for the festival. I chose to do the latter, declining to donate one of my series of dance paintings as first suggested. Subsequently I submitted three different digital “sketches” (which entailed several hours of work in themselves), and on February 9 was told the committee liked two of them. I heard no more until a February 20 email informing me that everyone on the committee wanted high school football players in the painting of the [2012] festival parade, but that the director wanted the parade puppets’ faces. So I began painting the option, of the two approved, most clearly showing both the football players and the puppets. A photo I sent on March 4 of the painting in progress was approved (although I wasn’t told that until March 6, and only after I had inquired).

On March 19 I met with the director and another member of the committee, and handed over the finished painting. Both asked for stylistic changes to the artwork – already signed, varnished, and photographed – and I declined, pointing out that if I had donated a piece of my dance art, as first suggested, they wouldn’t have asked for changes — that this was a fine art painting, not an illustration. At that meeting we verbally agreed that, for a minimal flat fee, I’d also do the pre-print set-ups of two versions of the festival poster, the bus poster, and two versions of the ad. I would also be paid for the work that I’d already done as a favor, at a late-night Feb. 4 emergency request, on the festival’s promotional tear-off pad.

The following Sunday, March 24, the director called to inform me of a committee decision that I wouldn’t be featured artist after all — nor would I be assigned the graphic design – because my artwork “wasn’t suitable for their purposes.” However, she added, I could have my painting back. She also said I should bill for the work on the tear-off pad.

It should be clear, in this review, that [your festival] organization has violated standard professional ethics and practices by:

  • informing me of a rather important stipulation (the donation of the original artwork) only after I’d accepted the invitation to be featured artist, and after my acceptance had been announced on the [festival’s] Facebook page.
  • changing a request for a fine art donation into a demand for creative control over a free work-for-hire illustration.
  • committing a breach of verbal contract, in dismissing both my featured artist status and the graphic design work they had agreed on, and
  • failing to communicate in a timely fashion and to answer direct questions from me during the process of the painting, then holding the work to a standard of which I’d never been informed (and still am not clear on).
  • I share some blame as well, in not insisting from the start on a clear work agreement in writing.

    I will not attend [your arts festival] again. Nor will I pursue this matter any further. However, in an effort to save both artists and the organization trouble and confusion in the future, I’d like to suggest the following changes to your featured artist program:

    1. When inviting an artist to be Featured (or Guest) Artist, let them know, in the invitation itself, exactly what will be expected of them. With the invitation, include a clearly written Work Agreement specifying each scheduled step of the process by both the [arts festival] committee / organization and the artist. Any choices the artist must make should be specified as well.
    2. If there is any money involved, specify what and who it is for, how much is budgeted, how it will be determined and paid, to whom and by whom.
    3. If you are requesting the donation of a work of fine art, make that clear and do not treat it as free work-for-hire.
    4. If you are requesting a free work-for-hire illustration rather than a fine art donation, specify how many designs and proofs will be expected during the production process, and when, and what, if any, stylistic and use requirements the work must meet. Keep in mind that you are already familiar with the artist’s style, and that the work will be rendered in that style.
    5. If the artist is also to take on graphic design duties, inform them beforehand of any existing graphic standards.
    6. Be ready and willing to negotiate the work agreement with the artist, and let the artist know that.
    7. Make sure the finalized work agreement has been signed by, and a copy retained by, both the artist and a representative of [your] organization, before any work or exchange of art takes place.

    In addition, I suggest, as a part of the work agreement, a modest but specific stipend, and/or a specific share of the raffle proceeds, for the featured artist. A professional colleague in another state tells me that he helps coordinate an arts festival with a similar featured artist program, and that they consider this sharing only fair to the artist.

    As another colleague points out, the only reputation an artist gains from giving away their art is the reputation for being an artist who gives away their art… thus devaluing their own market. For many of us, art is not simply a hobby or a “fun” pastime. The two-plus weeks I spent on the rejected painting was time I didn’t spend on other pressing commitments.

    Thank you for your time and attention. I have tried to clarify and convey my extreme disappointment in what had been a favorite festival. For my part, I will never again enter into an agreement of this sort without a clearly written work agreement. I hope that as an organization you will do the same.

    I will not be billing for the time I spent on the festival tear-off pad.


    Glenda M. Blake / GreenBoat Design

    cc: Broome County Arts Council


    Many thanks and much appreciation to all of the professional colleagues who have advised me on this rather painful issue, and my fond gratitude to all of the friends who have expressed their outrage and come to my defense. — GMB

    4 thoughts on “A 2013 arts festival, and how it all went down

    1. I think this letter is more than reasonable and perhaps does not adequately condemn the festival in question for their unethical and shabby treatment of you. Had it been me I would be calling for an artists’ boycott of the festival.

    2. Thank you, Leo. There are (at least) two sides to every story, and I’m sure there’s more to this story than I know. I’m simply telling what I experienced, and trying to make some good of it. Undoubtedly others experienced it differently.

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