On Selling Out

At this moment, I want you to acknowledge your passion — the activity that grants you more purpose than anything else in the world. What is it? What if someone wandered into your life tomorrow, and offered you a gigantic check to pursue that passion full-time? This magical person has acknowledged your talent and potential, and expresses their belief in you. This one-time gig is the rarest opportunity, and could be the launching point for an entire lifetime of contributing your passions to the world. You know that by agreeing to accept this person’s money, you will not only be capable of paying rent and bills for a few months, but you can finally afford your dream vacation and say goodbye to student loan residue.

There’s one stipulation to the gig: you must be a public ambassador for the company that is paying you. Whether you are a musician, painter, or chef, you must wear the logo representative of the massive corporation that actually has the money to pay you. Photos of you working on your craft will be included in their social media, and their board members will be able to use your success as an example of how charitable and “forward-thinking” they are. When media approaches you, you must spout off current slogans of their marketing campaign.

Would you do it? Would you accept corporate sponsorship to do what you love?

Recently in St. Louis, we have experienced the subtle infiltration of Philips66’s #66Reasons campaign. The marketing push has the same overall goal of any gas company’s advertising shticks — to drive gas-guzzling citizens to their filling stations and away from their competitors. But their tactics are different. With a generation of consumers who support small businesses, freelancers, and local sustainability, Philips66 has offered dozens of St. Louis artists the opportunity to be compensated for their creative efforts in exchange for promotion of their brand. By asking bloggers, painters, and photographers we trust to tag their social media #66ReasonsSTL, Philips66 seems to believe that I (as an arts-conscious 20-something car driver) will cozy up to their brand and thank them for being part of my city.

While I don’t give a shit where I buy gas from (the entire industry and system is corrupt), I’m not buying their implications that St. Louis is cool because Philips66 is cool. This has caused immense controversy within our community, and rightfully so. I wish more corporate marketing campaigns sparked this dialogue. However, we need to eliminate one phrase from this conversation: sell-out. Stop it with your overuse of the phrase sell-out. Please. For the love of everything Creative. Stop. Now. Selling out refers to people that abandon their personal belief systems to make money. Those that are making money for doing what they love is the ultimate life-hack, and we should be applauding any athlete, musician, or fine artist that accomplishes this challenging task. Though I am not the recipient of a Philips66 check, I most certainly have been on the receiving end of those labeling me a sell-out. It hurts, and it stems from a total misunderstanding and lack of communication between artists and viewers. Those that have been paid by Philips66 are not selling out, they are contributing to their community and encouraging growth of professional arts.

It’s important to push for more corporate funding for the arts. In this city, we need it. And there is nothing more satisfying than being at a table of corporate executives while representing my company, Chalk Riot, and hearing a resounding agreement that yes, public art IS important. I’m working from the inside-out to get more public arts funding for this city. And it’s easier for me to ask for $10,000 from a corporation at an hour-long meeting, than burn the midnight oil writing grants for $3000 that I may or may not be rewarded. I’m a strong businesswoman capable of earning money for public art by negotiating with corporate executives. And I do it because I believe that chalk art is a segue to establishing more permanent public art installations. I don’t do it because I’m selling out. I’m not sacrificing, I’m building. If arts non-profit foundations did not accept corporate donations, they would cease to exist. All of our free and accessible arts establishments in St. Louis receive major funding from corporations. The Saint Louis Art Museum accepts donations from Peabody, Monsanto, Arch Coal, and ExpressScripts, just to name a few. With the billions these corporations rake in annually while they take up space in OUR city, not only should we want their money in the arts, but we should want MORE of it! If you’re not okay with Philips66 infiltrating your instagram feed, then go to the top. Think like any anti-corporate campaigner and take the time to creatively initiate discussions with employees and executives, and have specific demands backed by thorough research and thousands of signatures. I’ve read too many rants of angry people on social media attacking the local artists that were paid by Philips66, and this does nothing but create divisions. If anything, we should be demanding Philips66 to start paying for bike lanes and to halt harmful drilling practices. But the most ineffective waste of energy is to attack the artists who pursued the opportunity to practice their craft and promote themselves. They are the ones that a skilled marketing team recognized as important to St. Louis. Kudos, Philips66 artists! That is AWESOME. That huge mural on the KDHX building is one of the greatest artistic contributions that St. Louis has seen in a while, and it just happens to have a small Philips66 logo on it. So what? I hope this mural leads to others, because we all know how many blank walls we have in St. Louis. It is proven that public art has the power to increase tourism, empower communities, and encourage growth of local businesses. To cover those walls with the beautiful art our city deserves takes serious cash — cash that corporations have to spare. Let’s continue to reclaim that dirty oil money and turn it into art we need.

Chalk Riot // Muralist // Public Arts Organizer // Certified Wine Nerd // proudly wasting money on plane tickets and art supplies since 2004

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Chelsea Ritter-Soronen

Chalk Riot // Muralist // Public Arts Organizer // Certified Wine Nerd // proudly wasting money on plane tickets and art supplies since 2004