The Church and Design Competitions

"All too often design competitions are created from the point of view of the sponsors without any regard to the work they are requiring of the artist."



The recent World Meeting of Families (WMOF) sparked considerable controversy over the design of the vestments that were worn by the clergy celebrating Mass during the meeting. Adding to the controversy is how the designs were arrived at.

Artist and designer Daniel Mitsuihas recently posted his own experience with the proposed design competition for the WMOF on his blog. You can read his experience, why he decided not to enter the competition, and his suggestions for future competitions here.

Mr. Mitsui's suggestions raise many good points. All too often design competitions are created from the point of view of the sponsors without any regard to the work they are requiring of the artist. Artists and designers make their living, that is, they feed themselves, their families, and pay their bills, by creating art and design.

Many competitions require artists to produce entirely new work, such as a company logos, or in the case of WMOF, vestment designs, with no promise of compensation for the work they have done. This is the equivalent of asking professional chefs to make you their speciality, and then, after sampling all the dishes, you will pay for the one you like.

The argument of course is that no one is forcing artists to participate. The artist can choose to enter or not based on the rules set our by the sponsors. This may be true but these types of contests attract largely neophyte artists and designers hoping to make a name for themselves. The competition as stated above is taking advantage of the ignorance of young, inexperienced designers. Even if they are willing to take the chance of working for free, it is unethical to expect them to do so.

"...for the laborer deserves his payment." Luke 10:7

Mr. Mitsui lays out some suggestions for design competitions and I think they are good suggestions. But I would also like to point out that the Graphic Artists Guild has addressed this issue and created fair and ethical guidelines for design competitions.

Of the three sets of guidelines produced, one of them addresses "Competitions held by non-profit organizations or where the winning entry is used for nonprofit purposes." This would apply most directly to competitions held by parishes, parochial schools, and dioceses. If you are with a diocesan office, a parish, or a parish school and are considering a design competition for a logo, flyer, banner, etc., please consider the following guidelines:

Competitions held by non-profit organizations or where the winning entry is used for nonprofit purposes.

1) The call for entry must clearly define all rules governing competition entries, specifications for work entered, any and all fees for entry and any and all rights to be transferred by entrants to the competition holder.

2) Jurors for the competition will be listed on the call for entry. No juror or employee of the organization holding the competition is eligible to enter the competition.

3) Criteria for jurying the entries and specifications for the submitted artwork in all rounds will be clearly defined in the call for entry as a guide to both entrants and jurors.

4) Deadlines and the process for notification of acceptance or rejection of all entries will be listed in the call for entry.

5) All uses for all entries will be listed clearly in the call for entries, with terms for any rights to be transferred.

6) For the first round, reproductions of existing work will be used to judge appropriateness of style, technique and proficiency. This round will end with a list of finalists. If art from this round is not to be returned, that fact will be listed clearly in the call for entries.

7) The number of finalists chosen after the first round should be small. The finalists will then be required to submit sketches or comprehensive drawings for final judging.

8) Agreements will be made with each artist working at the final stage, prior to the beginning of work (Graphic Artists Guild contracts or the equivalent can be used). The agreements cover the nature of the artwork required, deadlines, credit line and copyright ownership for the artist, and the amount of the award.

9) Any finalists’ work that’s late or not in the form required will be disqualified. All rights to disqualified artwork remain with the artist.

10) The winners will produce camera-ready or finished art according to the specifications listed in the call for entry. Artwork will not be altered in any way without the express permission of the artist.

11) The value of the award should, if possible, be equal to, or greater than, the fair market price for the job. Non-profit competition holders may make exceptions depending on the budget and use of the artwork for the competition.

12) The competition holder must insure original artwork in their possession against loss or damage until it is returned to the artist.

The Graphic Artist Guild also offers guidelines on competitions sponsored by for-profit companies. You can read them here. 

An alternative to competitions would be to choose an artist or designer whose work you admire or whose style matches your vision and work with them. With the internet it is fairly easy to survey the work of a number of artists very quickly and contact the ones you are interested in working with. In the end the World Meeting of Families did not choose any of the submitted designs but instead worked directly with a vestment manufacturer.