Why I am not offended by the offer of “exposure” in exchange for my work


You know what I’m talking about. Creative artists of all kinds get asked to donate their work or talent for a fundraiser, charity event, or whatever other production, in exchange for “exposure.” Some feel offended when asked to “give our talent for free.” I don’t. Here’s why.

I’m specifically referring to the unpaid opportunities that come up that include the phrase, “it will be great exposure though,” to some degree or another. I’ve noticed that many people in the creative arts industry (whether you are a visual artist, a musician, dancer, etc.) are triggered by this, and feel like our work is not valued. I suppose it depends from case to case, on the way the conversation is handled by both parties. Sure, there will be people who don’t value our work, or those who beg for it to be free and then throw in the word “exposure” for good measure, but I find that is not the norm in my experience.

I am not offended when people ask me if I can lower my prices, or donate my work for free, because I have a choice as to how I respond. If I am not willing, I am free to say “no,” and it doesn’t mean I am a bad person, nor does it mean they are bad for asking. It really doesn’t hurt to ask, and it doesn’t hurt to answer either. This is about authenticity. Let’s be honest with ourselves before we hold resentment toward others.

Potential situation: If someone asks you to donate your work, and you don’t want to but you do anyway, then you will likely feel resentment or taken advantage of. The truth is, you would have allowed it in this case. You said yes when you wanted to say no, whether out of discomfort, guilt, or fear. I understand there are certain circumstances where creative services and products ARE taken advantage of, but in my experience, we always have a choice in how we respond.

The value of our work begins with ourselves. Do you love and appreciate your work? Affirm it! Share your work with joy, AND require payment. Only donate your services when you genuinely feel called to do so. Ask yourself if it feels right for you at this time. Just because you tell a person or organization “no,” doesn’t mean that you are a selfish person. I’ve never had someone tell me that I am selfish (not to my face anyway) after declining to donate an artwork or participate in an event. If they believe that I am selfish for that, then I wouldn’t want to be doing business with them anyway.

Don’t assume that because someone is asking you to give your services or products for free (or, in exchange for exposure and networking), that they don’t value your work. Someone can love and value your work, AND still ask if they can have it for free. And you can respond however you like. A question or request is simply that, a question or a request. There is no reason to become angry or annoyed just because someone asks.

Some examples of conversations I’ve had:

Local organization: Hi Michelle! We were wondering if you would be willing to donate your artwork to our silent auction. It would be a great opportunity for exposure!
Me: Thanks for the opportunity, but I won’t be able to at this time.

Local organization: Hi Michelle! We were wondering if you would be willing to donate your artwork to our silent auction. It would be a great opportunity for exposure!
Me: Thanks for the opportunity, I would love to!

Friend: Michelle, we are holding this fundraiser for our cause, and hoping you can offer a painting session with the guests, as an incentive for them to buy tickets.
Me: I would have to charge my regular rate for painting sessions.
Friend: There will be a lot of high-profile people there though, it would be good exposure for you.
Me: Thanks, I understand, though I would still have to charge my regular rate for painting sessions.

Friend: Do you have a friends and family deal? I’ll blast it all over social media to give you exposure.
Me: Sure, it’s the same as my everybody else deal! (laughing…my true friends get me)

It’s quite simple to respond with kindness, whether accepting or declining a request. It comes down to being honest with ourselves first. We can ask ourselves whether we are in a place where we can gladly offer our services without resentment. If it’s not an absolute YES, it’s a hell NO. We don’t need to give explanations to try to validate why we answered yes or no. Let’s take a deep breath, be confident and genuine. Enjoy sharing our work (and getting paid), and celebrate with those who value our work as much as we do!

Just keep creating!