As you may know, I'm a big supporter of giving artists a fair shot at a living wage. After all, I too, would enjoy a living wage from my work. So imagine my dismay when I learned that the MIT Museum is holding a contest, calling on artists to create an image that "show MIT's relationship with its community and the world and provoke questions about MIT's future."
One of the obstacles creatives face in obtaining a living wage is creative contests. Also known as spec work. Nospec.com defines spec work as "any kind of creative work, either partial or completed, submitted by designers to prospective clients before designers secure both their work and equitable fees." Instead of paying somebody for a service, spec work commissions a slew of works and then pays the "winner". If you want to learn more, I drew a comic about it. Creative contests are bad, folks.
The Museum continues, "One image may be selected for inclusion in the exhibition and an award of $500*. Other images may be selected for exhibition elsewhere in the Museum." In other words, the rest of you get exposure, or something. Furthermore, if you read the fine print, you'll find that just by entering the contest you allow the museum to do anything it wants with your work, whether you win or not. You can view the contest page here.
Not only that, if you read the fine print (please do), you'll see that all entrants sign away partial rights to their work—whether they win or not.
There's no shortage of irony in MIT wishing to showcase it's relationship with its community by collectively shortchanging its artists. We all know contests sound fun and seem like a good way to bring everybody together, but what you're asking for is free work. Holding creative contests not only does a disservice to creatives, but also to the organization putting on the contest. Spec work is a cheap, lazy solution to relatively straightforward problem. Find an artist! Pay them! Don't make a hundred artists scramble for the chance to earn a wage. You wouldn't do this for any other profession. Heck, you wouldn't even ask people for a favor in this manner.
So just don't do it.
Thanks to Michele Banks for bringing this to my attention.