Artwork is Work

This morning I received an email
Hello Joy, 

This morning during Social Services prayers I took the opportunity to ask my colleagues to judge the entries in the logo competition. 

I am delighted to be able to let you know that one of your designs has been chosen and will be the logo for the SAFE Summer School of Arts. 

Unfortunately there is no prize but we will make sure that your name is mentioned. 


With best wishes,


Learning Disability Inclusion Development Manager.

The Salvation Army, Social Services

The Salvation Army have a large group of members with disabilities who choose to become SAFE members (Salvation Army Fellowship of Endeavour) and as a member of the Salvation Army with a disability I paid my yearly £5 to be a member of this group.

Recently a call was put out for someone to design their logo for the SAFE summer school of arts, where SAFE members do arty things like play a brass instrument or sing in a choir (maybe other arty things are included, but I’m not sure).

No prize or reward was mentioned, but since I’m always moaning that church doesn’t include non-music arts I felt obliged to enter. Hooray I won and here is the design which had to be based on the theme, “I am found”.

See! All that debt I’m occurring at Uni is paying off.

I’m glad I won, but it brings me back to the age old question, Is it right for an artist to work for free?

Yes, I know in my last post I spoke about an embroiderers gift to the church in the form of altar cloths, but you only need to type a Google search for Bible and fair wage to see what God thinks. A job well done is deserving of a fair wage.

It’s one of those difficult questions, when is it right to work for free and work for money?

Back in May, Sainsubury’s in Camden got into bother for putting an advert in the paper asking for a budding artist to design and paint their staff canteen. The reward? Getting your work recognised, (by Who, the staff at the checkout?), something to start off your career and build your reputation.

Artists responded with a similar advert asking for a well-stocked supermarket to volunteer to stock artists kitchens with food to build their reputations.

Two years earlier a similar story circled the Internet of a big bucks company asking artists to apply for a ‘competition’ and at least the winner got a flight to Vegas.

Now, before any of you get cross with me, I know the competition didn’t offer a prize, I know it wasn’t a paid job and I know that I didn’t have to enter if I didn’t want to.

All valid points, but hear me out.

Do you think a Christian composer of worship music works for free? No, that’s why every church has to pay for a music license. Worship composers get commissions on their work.

Our church regularly plays short videos made by visual artists during their services, some I expect are ‘borrowed’ from the Internet, but the creator of the video won’t be seeing credit or commission for their work. They won’t be receiving a little cheque at the end of the year because yet again we’ve watched the little heart logo video on Sunday.

Even a preacher gets a fair wage, and rightly so.

What really bugs me is that I spent several hours designing a logo for free, to be used by a Christian charity that has a bit of money, for a weeks holiday which I can’t afford. 

Maybe I should talk more on this blog about living in poverty. About having the government take away my disability payments (although I went to court Tuesday and have won my disability payments back without the judge even needing to see me). 

I should talk about what it’s like to not even have enough money to pay for the meal at church (which is made for the poor of the community) or how hard I laughed when watching a documentary three nights ago on how Londoners are paying for expensive bone broth (bovril to you and me) as a snack, when I’m having a mug of chicken bovril as my evening meal. 

Or how I spent most of yesterday afternoon in bed because hunger is easier to manage when your asleep.

But don’t worry, because the folks who can pay for a holiday will be able to be more blessed because I’ve worked for free.

I feel like sending a photo of my empty fridge and cupboards as a thank you response.

But you’re right, no prize was offered… Because visual arts isn’t valued in the church.

Last week, whilst designing a future pattern I was in the Leeds Parish Church, it was a nice visit and I had a free cup of tea, which they had no idea how much that was needed and appreciated. More about that visit in another post I think.

There are some beautiful textiles in the church but as I walked around I caught an image which just sums up how I often feel the church, especially the Salvation Army, considers designers and artists. Opposite the huge organ, which is one of the first things I noticed when I walked in the door, was a large wooden cabinet and behind that was a piece of artwork, well, let me just show you the photo…

I’m sure the people who spent time painting whatever is behind the cabinet are feeling very proud that their offering to the church has been so well received.
1. Artists advert to supermarkets.
2. Artists response to call out for free work because they dig his style.

Published by bettyvirago

Betty Virago is an award winning textile designer. Based in Yorkshire, England, and known for her Northern Folk dolls and the Quilts of Hope project.

4 thoughts on “Artwork is Work

  1. I’m so busy being angry with churches for charging the Food Bank rent for operating this volunteer crisis service from church halls across Leeds that I hadn’t registered they aren’t paying artists either.
    Working for free at a charity founded by a group of churches, but having to raise money to pay rent to those churches for the privilege of helping those most in need… It really made me cross.

    1. The question I asked is whether it was a good thing for an artist to work for free, and I didn’t really have a clear answer, just a question.
      I don’t work for a church, I entered a competition to design a logo to be used at a week long music holiday for church members with disabilities.
      At no point was there an offer of payment for the logo, although I think there should be some prize, but none was advertised, so I shouldn’t really complain.
      I had a general question on when work is free and when payment should be made. As someone who is trying to earn a living as a designer/artist I get annoyed when people think my work is done just for pleasure, or that it’s a God-given gift so should be ‘used’ rather than realising that I have worked hard for many years to do what I do.
      Quite often I give my time for free, but I too, have to eat. I was a bit frustrated that I am designing the logo, for free, so fellow church members can have a holiday that I can’t afford.
      In regards to food banks, all the churches I know have their own food bank, supported and funded by the church and have been giving out food for as long as I can remember. There is now the trussell trust though, who are funded in part by many large organisations to run additional food banks and I suppose part of that funding must go on rent to run each bank.
      Churches often rent out space and need to charge rent (although it is always lower than renting an alternative property) otherwise who would pay for the upkeep of the building, lighting, heating, water…
      In a sense, what churches have been doing quietly for free, for decades, the Trussell trust have made into a business, and businesses cost money.
      It would be wrong to complain that I am working for free, yet complain when a church isn’t charging rent to keep it running.

  2. Another thought provoking post.

    Although I agree with you about the lack of value the church gives the arts (with the exception of musicians and flower arranging!), I think the church fails top appreciate people who volunteer and need to learn from other voluntary sector organisations. How much work Sunday school leaders put in without even a thank you!! Just a thank you Sunday would be a step forward xx

    1. Oh, I am so with you there. How about as well as giving children a free book as a thank you for coming week after week, they also give something to the people (often women) who keep the church clean and running day after day.

      Working for free because we love Jesus is all well and good, but even Jesus knew how to be thankful.

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