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Artists Don't Work for Free

By Adrian Doyle

Published October 27 2021

Many of Melbourne’s most important lanes are being annexed by developers for giant commercial development projects. At the moment they are usurping Union Lane into a shopping complex.

Union Lane has been a great space for younger artists to cut their teeth in a public space, it runs between Little Collins St and Bourke Street Mall. Presgrave Place, famous for its sculptures and objects, has had half of its artwork destroyed as it is being refitted into a new building. And now there are plans to turn one side of the Blender Lane into a 40-storey apartment block. Blender Lane was the laneway that ran alongside the Blender Studios for 17 years.

It’s really sad and annoying that the people who take away Melbourne’s cultural heritage to create large-scale development for profits, are mostly from foreign owned conglomerates who leave the city a little less special, taking their money and running. Anyway, that’s not what this article is about, I would like to talk about exploiting artists.

As an artist I am constantly being contacted by people who want me to work for free. It was something that happened more when I was young and less established. It’s weird with art, that people not only ask you to do it for free, but they also want to have so much input (all you need is VCE art and you’re an expert.) You wouldn’t call an electrician, tell them to work for free, and then tell them how to do it.

Over the years I have had many people contact me to create fine art or street art at their house, in their café, garage or adjoining lane. The most common phrases I get are, “it will be good exposure for you” or, “It will give you a chance to practice, besides you already do it illegally for free.”

Artists don’t get valued in our society the way they deserve. Artists give up a secure life to chase a life of creativity. They take a risk and make a choice to live with potential poverty. A choice most people would not be brave enough to make. Some people might not see this choice as brave, but to chase your dream in any capacity means you love what you do, so you never work a day in your life. Artists have made a substantial contribution in branding Melbourne as a cool and creative city. There are galleries, studios, live music and comedy venues all adding to the creative culture of Melbourne.

It’s very hard to articulate a currency of culture. It is clear that art and street art has rebranded Melbourne and thousands of people come to Melbourne to go to the NGV or go on a street art tour. It has created a currency, but it is very hard to articulate. The truth is most of the people that benefit from the art and street art around Melbourne are not the artists. With studio rents going up and jobs becoming very competitive in such a creative city, it is important that we take care and ensure that the creatives of Melbourne are not exploited.

If you need a mural or some art, now is a good time as we artists need work. Go see a gig or some comedy. But ensure you pay a fair amount for the service you receive. And please don’t ask for a freebie.

Artists don’t want to work for free, they need to be paid the same as everyone else. We don’t need the opportunity or the exposure. We need understanding and equality.

So, please have a bit of empathy for artists, their contribution, and their journey.


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