The Kerfuffle Post-mortem

Tree texture
Kerfuffle -- what a great word.  Someone used it yesterday to describe the buzz that sprung out of the new SAQA call for entry to design fabric as a fundraiser for the organization.   In a nutshell, SAQA offered members the chance to design a six to eight piece fabric line under the banner of Urban Textures that would be produced by Andover Fabrics.  SAQA would receive a portion of the sales proceeds (hence, the idea this was a fundraiser) and also retain the copyright of all selected designs.  Like other SAQA calls for entry, there was a fee for submitting an entry.  Finally, artists were not going to receive remuneration for their designs and/or proceeds from the sales.

The call created an uproar.

Kristin La Flamme sent an articulate email to the SAQA Yahoo group, stating that doing creative work without compensation is a big no-no in the graphic design world. She cited the AIGA's aversion to the practice and linked us to their statement here.  In rapid succession, members expressed their own concerns about the organization of the opportunity.

I thought folks were making good points, especially considering AIGA professional organization opinion (as seen in their statement noted above) that reads:

AIGA believes that professional designers should be compensated fairly for their work and should negotiate the ownership or use rights of their intellectual and creative property through an engagement with clients.

A collaborative approach that respects and acknowledges the value of every participant's contribution usually works best.  Of course, everyone would like to get paid more, but even some compensation is better than none.  

I also felt that, if I were to participate in this call, I'd want something more than simply submitting my designs. If I was selected, I'd want to be part of the further process of getting the designs ready for market.  It's not that I believe I have great knowledge to add to the discussion, but I'd want to listen in on the discussion so I could understand why things were tweaked.  With all this in mind, I sent an email to the SAQA group with the following suggestions about a potential re-organization of the fund-raiser:

1) insist that the artist's name would be included in all marketing material to give appropriate credit;
2) ask that the chosen artist be included in design and development meetings with Andover so that the artist could learn from the experience, potentially developing a relationship with Andover; 
3) require that the artist receive some compensation from sold yardage (I don't know what the right number is, but I think there's room for Andover profits, SAQA fundraising, and artist compensation);
3) require that the artist receive compensation -- to be negotiated later -- if replication of the selected designs moves beyond the initial fabric / terms of the call for entry (such as into carpet design or home decorating fabrics);
4) hope that the artist selected would be given the opportunity to share their experience (including the process of working with Andover, as noted above) to the SAQA community in conferences and the Journal so others can learn from the experience as well.

Martha and her team amended the call for entry yesterday, in light of the on-line debate.  You can find the new call listed here.  I think the changes address some of the concerns members had and I'm glad Martha was able to respond quickly.

There are lots of lessons and observations from the kerfuffle:
1)  SAQA is trying to be creative in its approach to finding funds to support the organization.  I applaud them for that.  However, fresh and new ideas need to be more thoroughly vetted before an announcement.

2)  If SAQA is going to join in a for-profit enterprise that asks for member participation, the selected artists really should have a larger role than handing over their creative efforts without compensation or future control over how their designs are used.  This is a personal bee in my bonnet because I would think that SAQA would be working hard to safeguard the rights of their membership, teaching those of us without experience how to navigate business endeavors.  They should be setting the standard on how artists should be treated and this experience didn't really do that.  

3) Marketing is an important part of any successful sales experience.  It's hard to sell something if no one knows you have it.  In the initial call for entry, SAQA stated that the artist's name would be listed along the fabric's selvedge.  As a girlfriend of mine put it: "Wait.  They're going to list the name on the part of the fabric that gets cut off and thrown in the garbage?"  She has a point; a listing on the selvedge is not enough. It's since come to light that the artist's name will be included in marketing materials, but whose?  SAQA's?  Andover's?  I believe it should be both .... and include a paid ticket to Quilt Market so that the artist can talk with buyers about the experience (positive, I'm assuming) of working with both SAQA and Andover.

4)  Folks were likening this experience to the Quilting Arts calendar -- you pay for the opportunity to be considered, but don't receive compensation if selected.  I don't see this as the same scenario at all.  In my opinion, the QA calendar allows the artist the opportunity to gain exposure through a juried, print exhibition, AND the artist retains the copyright to the work.  QA does make a profit from the calendar, but they cannot license any images from it for anything.  SAQA, on the other hand, does control the copyright and in the current scenario, they can decide to put selected designs on tote-bags as another fundraiser .... and have no additional obligation to the artist that made it all possible.  They can also license the design out to other business interests, again without obligation to the originator of the design.  I guess I'm willing to pay for a bit of exposure  -- a very nominal bit that might be different for every artist (certainly paying for inclusion in a juried exhibition counts in this format)--  but not also to relinquish my copyright and future potential earnings.  (Sue Reno shared an interesting blog post about exposure and pay for artists on the Yahoo group.  You can read it here.)

5)  This kind of opportunity is also a great chance for selected artists to understand and gain access to a part of the fabric business they might otherwise not see.  I'm disappointed that SAQA couldn't negotiate on behalf of the artist(s) that they "audit" design discussions.  I don't know that any of us can compete with Andover's understanding or market research that directs them to what colors are "right" for the Urban Textures line, but it would be great to be a fly on the wall.  Since education is part of the SAQA mission, I hope they will remember to see opportunities such as this as learning experiences, not just for the ones involved, but for the entire membership.  I hope that they consider putting some element into future calls that require selected artists to give back what they've learned to the SAQA community.  I realize not every call will allow for this, but I imagine there are some that will.   

6) If SAQA is hoping to help bring art quilts into the mainstream art world, then it would behoove the organization to be a bit more knowledgable about how different aspects of the art world approach the business of making and selling art.  I know I need to learn more.

7) I was a bit hesitant about posting on the SAQA group; as an on-line community we're not always the best at offering a-emotional responses to a differing opinion.  However, taking a stand and letting folks know your opinion can affect change.  It's a blessing in our society that we feel so free to share a dissenting point of view.  I'm going to have to remember how lucky we are that we don't have to accept, as a whole, that "that's just the way things are".  We can speak up.  I realize this issue isn't anywhere close to the same as speaking up about meatier topics like homelessness or immigration or budget cuts, but we can almost always find a way to be heard and that's still pretty cool.


Paula Kovarik said…
Bravo Vivien. I think your summary of the kerfuffle is thoughtful and comprehensive. I am listening and I think a lot of other are too.
Cindy Green said…
Well said! Good outcome! And yes, I do like the word kerfuffle (although I think it sounds more like the name of an imaginary monster who's big and furry as in "Look out! Here comes a kerfuffle!")
Kristin L said…
This is a great wrap up Vivien. If nothing else, those of us who dissented early on got others thinking and there have since been excellent ideas on how better to serve the needs of the fundraiser and the contributing artists (yours included). One thing that bothered me in the original Call for Entries, that you do not mention, but has since been remedied, was the amount of work asked to be donated. The Call asked for 6-8 coordinating designs which would be considered one entry. While not brain surgery, one would assume that the artist/designer would take the time to research what the market needs, current color trends, scale of the various designs in relation to each other, variety of pattern and repeats, quality of repeats, etc. This is not trivial work, and yet that is what was asked to be donated as if it were the same as one stand alone 12x12" piece. I am happy to see that the request now starts at only one design and the juror will curate a collection from a variety of artists. It is my belief that we need to always be wary of downplaying our creative and intellectual cache -- it's all we have as artists that sets us apart.
and brava to Kristin too!
I thought you summed it up very well. I read through the whole kerfluffle, and at first I couldn't figure out why I was upset....then I figured it was just me, especially since i just lurk on the list. But you nailed it perfectly!