“Looking for an artist interested in a temp canvas (pro bono) plus the mysterious back story!”

by Prince Of Petworth December 8, 2015 at 3:44 pm 50 Comments


“Dear PoPville,

Sometime between 3:00 – 4:00 am Sunday/Monday this happened to one of the pillars at the entrance to my building in Columbia Heights. It totally looks like a car smashed right into it. Funny thing, no tire marks anywhere. Anyway, cops and management company are looking into. Building and everyone who lives there are fine.

Mgmt Co stepped up really quick and got this temp structure erected to keep loose debris, etc. from affecting foot traffic in/around the building. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to reach out to the community regarding getting some work on this blank canvas. So, here’s the call for some street art / mural on a temporary structure.

Catch #1 – Unfortunately the Board will not be able to approve any funds for this project. While I personally may be able to help buy paint, this would be mostly a pro bono piece of work. The site is right on a prominent corner on 14th St in lower Columbia Heights – so the work would get great visibility – if that helps.

Catch #2 – this will definitely get tagged. I was hoping a nice piece of art might stand a better chance, but after seeing other work defaced in the neighborhood, I’m not so sure. Just a head’s up.

Finally – you’d have 90% creative control. Would just need to have a chat about your ideas. You could do a full wrap or just one wall. All styles accepted. Go crazy or do something more winter-y or Christmas-y. (Heck, I was thinking of just painting the whole box like a giant Christmas present, complete with a real giant red bow. Ha!)”

  • starving artist

    Sounds like a great opportunity.

  • quincy

    I’m sorry – but artists should be compensated for their work. Would your building ask for a plumber to donate his or her services for a clogged drain?

    • Mike

      No, but then again we’ve all met an intern. And, most likely, the person shadowing the journeyman plumber.

    • MAW

      Artists should be compensated. So should teachers and others, but lots of artists (I say speaking as one, but not one whose work would … work … in this setting) enjoy doing exposition work for free (especially big, public, highly visible work) because it’s a unique challenge.

      And frankly, if you’re an artist to make the big bucks, you’re (a) doing it wrong, and (b) gonna fail.

      • V

        Kehinde Wiley. At $400K for some pieces, he’s (a) doing it right and (b) clearly WINNING

  • petworther

    I agree with the above. How would it sound if I said: “Hey, my building full of wealthy young professionals would like pro bono legal representation. Can anyone help?” Or

    • Harry

      There are no tricks here. The requestor says up front that there won’t be any payment. If an artist doesn’t want to work for free, ze has the choice to not apply.

  • skj84

    You need to pay the artist. Exposure means jack. Compensate them for their time and energy. Especially if they are expected to provide supplies.

    • Exposure can be very valuable. I did pro bono work in my free time for a wealthy university for two years. It was good experience, and it opened lots of doors for other paid opportunities. Plus I could walk away from it whenever I wanted.

      • Caroline

        The way I see it, there are a lot of opportunities to donate artistic talents to a nonprofit organization, so why not do work for them instead? That’s how I’ve always operated. I’ll leave jobs like this to the professionals who aren’t just doing it for fun.

  • Anon

    Leave it as is. It gets dark so early these days, and people aren’t around for the holidays, and it will theoretically be getting colder out so fewer people will be out and about. No one’s really going to notice or care, especially with all the other construction going on all over the place. If it really bothers you I’m sure you could come up with something creative to do yourself, or maybe get others in the building involved. But please don’t demean artists by thinking they’d want to pour their talents into this just for the “visibility”.

  • Anon

    “I was thinking of just painting the whole box like a giant Christmas present, complete with a real giant red bow.”
    Instead of devaluing creative work of others, why not do just what you proposed? I think that would be a fun idea for this temporary canvas. Oh, and don’t think you’re doing artists any favors by offering this “free canvas”. That’s entitled nonsense.

    • Anon

      Assuming the OP is fairly confident the pillar will be fixed by January. I’d be less optimistic and do something non-seasonal just in case the temp structure is still up in June :)

    • dcd

      With this post, “entitled” may have passed “privileged” as the most misused word in English. Congratulations, or something.

  • Anonymous

    For those saying that the artist should be paid, please note that the building managers are probably fine with 1) not painting this at all or, 2) painting it white/tan. The OP is simply saying that, rather than the building managers painting it drab that someone in the area can paint it instead.

    • Anon

      Not following your logic.

    • agree

      Agreed. This isn’t the same as somebody asking for a free logo or website design in exchange for “exposure.”

      • FridayGirl

        Yeah, I thought this was the jist. I get paying the artist for compensation but I thought the idea was “instead of management painting this white, if someone would like to put something nicer there that’d be great.”

    • T


    • Heaven forbid something drab be on that plywood! My stars!

  • Philippe Lecheval

    You should head off the taggers and commission a piece that says “Voyer is a bitch.”

  • wdc

    Who’s compensating the yarn bombers? Some people just like to get their work seen, whether or not anyone wants to see it (see above, re: yarn bombing.)
    OP isn’t holding a gun to anyone’s head. No artist is obligation to provide this service. No artists were harmed in the asking of the question. So settle down.

    • Anon

      I mean, sure, and some plumbers love laying pipe so much that they do it for free as well. Seen it in a movie, actually.
      Commenters above are simply tempering OP’s expectations. Not sure why you felt it necessary to be so dismissive.

      • wdc

        Why *I* felt it necessary to be so dismissive?? Whaa?
        Anyway, show me one plumber who does it for the love of the job. Someone who works a 9-to-5 in an office just to finance his plumbing hobby. Maybe some summer plumbers’ retreats, where lovers of pipe can get together and work on their soldering technique.
        Yeah, totally the same.

        • wdc

          I caught that, but the sanctimonious follow-up threw me.

        • Curious

          I actually do know a guy who does that kind of stuff as a hobby. He installed my hot water heater for me, and only requested a 6-pack as payment.

  • Corp Artist

    As an artist with a not very creative corporate job, I would do this if I had time. An opportunity to be creative and have free reign in a city you love, that’s pretty awesome to me.

    Though I totally understand it’s not going to attract freelancers.

  • The Other Jason – OP

    You guys are funny. I agree with you tho. If this were a permanent piece I’d certainly never ask for free work. This just landed in our lap so-to-speak, and instead of leaving it as a brown box, I thought it would be a cool canvas someone may want to hit up, knowing it wouldn’t last but a few weeks (I hope it’s not still up in June!). I got the idea from the construction walk-way currently on U St. They had local artists came out and add their work. I don’t know if they were compensated tho. Hey, I wish our Board could offer compensation, but it’s just not in our budget. We weren’t planning on getting hit by a car! :) Regardless, thanks to anyone who is interested or passes the info along. Happy Holidays you lovely, lovely haters!

    • skj84

      If looking out for the well being of those who make art a career makes me a hater, then so be it. I work in a creative industry. I have a lot of friends who are artists. I would never dream of asking them to work for free. THis is their bread and butter. If you want a intern or hobbiest or something so be it. If someone decides they want to donate their work cool. But don’t be so dismissive about a common issue in the creative world.

      • MAW

        “I have a lot of friends who are artists” – said everyone who never actually talks to their friends. Good artists exist to do art. Anytime, anywhere, and if it pays, so much the better (but if not, the expression iteslef is payment).

        • skj84

          Actor here. As are my friends. I love performing. It gives me life. You know what also gives me life? Getting paid. Cause rent and bills are not going to pay themselves on “exposure”. Get a clue.

        • I didn’t realize the quality of one’s art was corollary to the lack of expectation for getting paid for it.

      • Harry

        I’ve worked in the creative industries as well, and I’m with the OP on this one. He’s not even putting the squeeze on someone by asking face-to-face. The artist is free to respond or not. FWIW I have a friend who would do this in a heartbeat; unfortunately for the OP she lives in Ohio.

      • dcd

        “If someone decides they want to donate their work cool.”
        Donating is cool, but it’s not OK to ask for the donation? The donation would have to just materialize, fully formed, on the pillar? A hipster version of Athena springing fully armored from Zeus’s head?
        That’s ridiculous.

        • skj84

          Ad in donate thier time. I’m not saying they shouldn’t. I just don’t like the OP’s attitude. It’s just smug. They want someone to come in, decorate for free on thier own dime, not compensate them in any way, oh and by the way the work will probably be destroyed by taggers. It’s a power imbalance. Does that make sense?

          • FridayGirl

            SKJ I understand where you’re coming from, but some people also enjoy making art as a HOBBY (particularly graffiti-style art and murals) and have another job that pays. We hear you loud and clear and if you don’t agree, you don’t have to do it. But just because you disagree with OP’s tone and request (which frankly, I thought he put out there with good intentions — he didn’t ask for a professional anywhere) doesn’t mean others can’t have a different opinion.

          • dcd

            There would be a power imbalance is some poor, unsuspecting artist was forced to do this project gratis. That’s not the case. Anyone who feels put upon by the request need not respond. I read the OP as asking, “Hey, here’s an opportunity here – unfortunately, we can’t pay anyone, but if someone feels like it would be worth their time, we’d love for this pillar to look nicer.” That’s neither smug nor an inappropriate use of “power.”

          • I say we just put KJ-I, Cosby, and PoP stickers all over it.

          • dunning-kruger

            People are talking about two things here. There is the OPs situation and then there is the situation with artists systemically not being compensated for their work. There is some overlap which is why both are being discussed.
            The meta issue is this: the number of artists who will work for free is too high, it makes it very difficult for artists to get paid because there are others who will do it for free. Thus the power imbalance. That’s a major issue. In this specific case it seems pretty obvious that unless an artist or just some person with some supplies does something it’ll just sit so the OP is putting out the feelers.
            The catch 22 is that you can’t ask for free art without being part of the problem and indirectly devaluing the value of art and an artist’s time/skills. Artists need paying gigs to pay bills, but also to get more paying gigs, you do enough free work and people think that’s how it is.

          • @dunning-kruger, It’s even worse now for photographers, video editors, etc, with the proliferation of cheap DSLR technology. I can’t tell you how many solicitations I see for free work to be done so people can “get some experience”.

      • HaileUnlikely

        This is silly. It would be a dick move for them to pressure a specific individual to volunteer their work for free, but that’s not what they’re doing, they’re just putting out a rather aimless plea for anybody to help, and most people who don’t really want to help are pretty good at ignoring such things.

  • scorekeeper

    Ugh. Either change the pitch, or pay the artist.

    If you’d said “we’re offering this as a canvass for the community,” that’d be one thing.

    But you didn’t.

    You asked for someone to pretty up an eyesore in front of your building, one almost certainly filled with people of means. And even better, you’re requiring approval of the (uncompensated!) work.

  • Urban_Architect

    Artist here. What they’re asking for is pro bono work. It’s not a foreign concept. If you’re an artist and you wouldn’t do it without pay – don’t.

    They may not get any takers. But then again, they might – hence the post.

  • MarkQ

    Seems like this could be a community building opportunity for the residents. Buy some art supplies and let them go at it.

  • V

    amazing how many people are totally OK with asking artists to work for no pay. It’s positively insulting. In no other arena are people totally fine with asking for free work.

    • HaileUnlikely

      That is false. Lots of people and organizations solicit volunteers for all sorts of types of work, and lots of people graciously volunteer for them. I do think it is a meaningful distinction that in this case the OP is asking on behalf of an organization that clearly has the means to pay for the services but simply does not want to.

  • Alexis

    Idea: get your residents to donate unused paint, interior paint. FYI, using materials that stand up to weather definitely cost money and are specific. So, this is just one idea for a short term project.

  • me

    Agree with a lot of the sentiment here. I think it’s outrageous that a building full of yuppies is soliciting a starving artist for free work. I mean, how many people live in the building? How much is the rent (or mortage payment?) My guess is a minimum of $2500-3000 a month.

    And you’re saying paying someone isn’t in the budget? Ask $1 to 5 from every single unit. Pay the artist. Come on.

    • The Other Jason – OP

      Nice shade. I’m certainly no yuppie buddy and you are more than welcome to come find out. Also, our building is roughly 30-40% ADU, so certainly the whole place isn’t full of $3,000+ mortgages. Please get off your high-horses that we’re trying to take advantage of “starving artists” while hording all our cash Uncle Scrooge style. BUT…and this is why I really wanted to respond…I was thinking time was an issue, and therefore didn’t give enough thought about other ways to raise cash for the artist (I REALLY like the idea and will pass it along to the residents. Cheers!).


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