Bumbershoot's Design Flaw

Graphic artists are up in arms over a call for work on spec.

"Imagine if it were contractors: 'I want the 10 of you to build me a house and I'll pay the one that I like.'" That, says Jeff Barlow, president of the Seattle chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, is exactly what Bumbershoot is doing with its recently announced competition. Each year, Bumbershoot commissions a different graphic designer to illustrate its advertising and promotional campaign. But in celebration of the 40th festival this year, Bumbershoot brass decided to hold a contest to find a permanent logo. The reward for the winner: a gold pass to the 2010 festival, and no money. The response from the local graphic-arts community hasn't been positive. "Basically, I think it devalues our whole industry," says Kevin Gordon, a local freelance designer. The contest is part of a series of events called "40 Ways to Celebrate Bumbershoot," taking place this summer in the run-up to the Labor Day–weekend fest. Bumbershoot spokesperson Mikhael Williams says the festival's not trying to devalue anything. The idea, she says, was to "engage the creative community here in Seattle." If Bumbershoot were just trying to save money, she says, "we would not be contracting designers, and we would be doing it in-house." Barlow says money is not the issue. He says firms like his, jelvetica, do pro bono work. But working on spec will mean a lot of designers will put in a lot of ultimately wasted effort. "I don't think there's anything malicious," says Barlow, who's been in contact with Bumbershoot about the issue, and believes the two parties can come to a conclusion that satisfies both the festival and local designers. He says if Bumbershoot does go through with the contest, there will be a "firestorm of negative reaction." Williams doesn't expect the festival to change course.

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