Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to include additional information from the Madison Public Art Project to clarify funding and logistics of the Vibrant Hydrant project.
A local nonprofit arts organization is under fire after a local artist criticized their pay rates on social media.
The Vibrant Hydrant project is being put on by the Madison Public Arts Project, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit. The goal of the Vibrant Hydrant project is to paint several fire hydrants to honor and remember those lost during 9/11.
The project, as it was originally pitched, would pay artists $300 to create a design for fire hydrants. It would also require artists to paint and prime the hydrant.
But one local artist is voice her concern that the project does not pay enough – and devalues the work of artists generally.
As first reported by Tone Madison, local artist T.L. Luke voiced her concern in a unique way: through a comic.
In the comic, originally posted to their Instagram account, Luke criticized the pay for the project given its expectations, including the cost of materials and the labor that priming and painting a hydrant would require. She says that, for this sort of project, artists should be paid at least double the $300 stipend.
“Even with materials covered, I don’t know if you know what Monona’s fire hydrants look like, it’s an odd shape and structure. It’s now going to be prepped and primed by a separate organization, (but) on the original application, the expectation was that the artist was going to have to come in on a separate day to prepare the hydrant. This was written explicitly written in the application,” Luke says.
Luke posted her comic on Thursday, and by Thursday night, the Madison Public Arts Project revised their application to offer a $400 stipend.
Jillian Talarczyk is President and Creative Director of the Madison Public Arts Project. She says that now, hydrants will now be primed by a contractor, and that they’re still seeking volunteers to assist with painting logistics.
Talarczyk did not grant an interview to WORT, but did provide a statement. In it, the Madison Public Arts Project says that it appreciates the transparent conversations that have been brought forward, and will strive to do better. They add that this issue “brings attention to the arts and the hurdles facing artists and arts organizations which is an important discussion to have. This is a systemic problem, the systems are setup against artists, and that is the bigger conversation that needs to be addressed.”
In 2020, Wisconsin ranked last in the nation in per-capita state funding support for arts and culture. In fiscal year 2022, preliminary data shows Wisconsin moved up to second-to-last, spending about 14 cents per state resident on arts and culture. That’s according to an analysis from the Wisconsin Policy Forum.
Talarczyk says that MPAP relies on a combination of contributions from corporations, grants, individual donors, and community and in-kind support. She says the Vibrant Hydrant project received a $1,790 Dane Arts grant for this project.
“We are a grassroots organization that is 100% volunteer. All our projects exist because of direct fundraising efforts. We are, like so many others, trying the best we can with what we have. We pay as much as we can for each project, and those we have put forth have come from a place of genuine love of public art, wanting to see more art in the community, and were created with good intentions- not to “profit.” No staff of MPAP is paid and we have no big money behind us.”
But Luke says she is still disappointed that she had to create the comic at all, saying that paying artists fairly should not be controversial.
“There seems to be some confusion to people as to why this is controversial. ‘Isn’t any money for the arts a good thing? Isn’t any kind of opportunity a positive thing?’ This is what I want to break down: if you would paint a house painter more than you would pay an artist, then you are not pricing things correctly. I think that people don’t get that a sketch is labor, a drawing is labor, any early work on a project is labor,” Luke says.
Luke says that she was driven to speak up about the issue to warn younger artists not to devalue the work of artists. Luke also says that voicing their concerns through a comic was a way to bring more eyes to the issue.
“I wanted to do it because I wanted people to stop and go, ‘Oh ****, somebody had to go and do labor to bring this to us.’ I wanted people to go, ‘somebody had to make a ******* comic to share this? This must be a bigger deal.’ I think having something that somebody put time into, (will make them think) that this is bigger than just some opinionated thing in town,” Luke says.
Photo courtesy: Nate Wegehaupt / WORT News Team