Back in February 2021, Tesla billionaire, Elon Musk, tweeted drone footage of his new Gigafactory in Berlin. Underneath he wrote, ‘it will be filled with graffiti art’.
At the time many thought it was simply a joke but on 26th May the official Tesla twitter feed announced, “If you want to help cover Giga Berlin in awesome graffiti art, send us your work at [email protected]” sparking a flurry of responses and ideas from people all over the world.
When we first found out about this news our immediate feeling was one of excitement for who ever gets chosen. It sparked memories of David Choe who back in 2005 painted Facebook’s first office space. Initially he agreed to make his mark for $60,000 but instead opted for shares which turned out to be a very shrewd move as those shares are now worth over $200 million.
The big difference between the two is that it seems as though the billionaire has chosen to go down the frustratingly common ‘free commission’ route and let’s face it it’s not like he can’t afford to pay the artists involved…
South African born Elon Musk is a highly successful entrepreneur. According to his wiki page he started out in 1995 setting up Zip2, an internet based city guide for the newspaper industry which was bought out by Compaq for $307 million just 4 years later. Musk owned 7% of the shares in the company and received $22 million.
He then went on to set up X.com, his own version Paypal, which in 2000 merged with the online money transfer giant and netted him a further $100 million.
Since then he has gone on to increase his wealth through numerous ventures including SpaceX and of course Tesla resulting in an estimated wealth of over $156 billion.
The latest Tesla Gigafactory of which there are already 3 lies just 20 miles south-east of Berlin and sits on a 740 acre piece of land bought by Tesla for €41 million and according to the Tesla website ‘the Gigafactory Berlin-Brandenburg will be the most advanced high-volume electric vehicle production plant in the world’.
Now, for the record, we can’t say Elon Musk isn’t prepared to pay, or that he doesn’t have a proposition or two up his sleeve but to date there has been no mention of any payment for who ever gets chosen. Sure, the exposure and media coverage may raise the profile of any artist involved but it does put artists, once again, in a catch 22 situation.
Time and time again we see companies looking for artists to create beautiful work in return for this mystical ‘exposure’. Problem is, exposure doesn’t pay the bills, doesn’t buy the equipment and doesn’t pay for the artists time.
We’ve become stuck in a cycle where we hope the next ‘exposure’ based job is the one that launches our career and makes us a household name. Sadly though, it’s a cycle we’ve created by agreeing to do these things for free. If all artists stood firm and said no then companies would have no choice but to pay accordingly. The reality though is someone will do it for free, clinging on to the hope that ‘this will be the one’.
We’ve seen the moans and groans so many times on social media from artists who have been approached to do something spectacular, only to be told there is no payment. As a collective we need to stand firm and say enough is enough. We deserve payment just as any person does for a hard day’s work. Society needs to recognise art as a worthwhile contribution, not something someone does for a bit of fun or a hobby.
Most importantly as artists we need to acknowledge our worth and learn to say no sometimes.