Are you ready to pay off your student debt with bedazzled bikini tops, plastic sandals and polyester t-shirts? Now’s your chance! H&M, everyone’s favourite Swedish multinational retailer of fast-fashion, has teamed up with OCAD University for an exploitative endeavour in the form of a student art competition.
At the end of May, a panel of three H&M members and two OCADU members will choose the eight winning works to beautify the temporary construction walls that will cover the Yonge and Dundas location (yes Toronto, more construction). The seemingly innocuous competition becomes distinctly bitter when one takes into account the pitiful rewards.
Each artist will be compensated with a $500 gift card towards H&M products, and a ticket to the flagship’s re-launch party. The clincher is the alleged exposure these artists will receive, a familiar incentive used to lure those working in the arts into free labor.
A commercial retail giant like H&M, which at any given location brings in roughly millions annually, should be ashamed for such pitiful compensation. Meanwhile OCADU, which has previously rejected participation and endorsement of such competitions, is as much to blame.
As producers of future artists who aim to make their craft their primary source of income, it is unjustifiable that they would promote competitions like these, contributing to a harsh professional climates that their students will enter. Arts students would be far better benefitted from fair pay in the form of actual money that could go towards their various craft and living expenses.
It is problematic not only in its poor return for these young artists, but in that it also undercuts the professional market these students are working towards. Perhaps due to some underlying assumption that working in the arts is always easy or fun, there is a widespread trend that compensating artists for their work is superfluous.
While we won’t deny that this competition still fares better than the many that offer no compensation whatsoever, the students are being nonetheless shortchanged. Competitions like these need to be called out for what they are: a multi-national retailer optimizing ultimate profits by preying on the desperation of students.