“If you have a company that is established and you respect the work you’re getting, but you don’t have enough respect for the person to at least give them something, that's imbalanced,” Oliver said. “There should be some type of balance.”
Oliver’s advice to emerging artists today who are navigating this industry is to find a mentor to guide them.
“I think anybody who has any reservations with exposure and whether they feel like they are getting used or not or compensated properly, I think one of the most important things is to have mentors that you can reach out to,” Oliver said.
John DeKemper, a graduate of the MFA program at UNC, said he wishes exposure actually reflected art's true meaning in today’s art community. DeKemper said that in order to be successful, emerging artists need more people to see their work and understand what the artist does. When an artist is just starting out, the promise of exposure can be tempting.
“It sometimes sounds really good, and often it’s the only option,” DeKemper said. “It’s hard to find work otherwise.”
DeKemper said that because art does not have clear definition between expert and amateur, it is easy for individuals to trivialize it as a form of labor that doesn’t inherently demand compensation.
“People don’t like the idea that they aren’t experts or potential experts," DeKemper said. "In science and medicine, you have to go get a degree, you have to do training, you have to learn, you have to read. Well, you have to do that for art too."
DeKemper himself has been offered exposure deals for his art before, but because of the guidance of mentors, he was equipped to handle these offers appropriately.
“I have never seen an offer like that that was fair; that has yet to come across my plate," DeKemper said. "I think if you are asking someone to do your labor for you, then paying for that labor is the only thing that makes sense."
Exposure as a form of currency sets a harmful precedent that future art work doesn’t require compensation, Wagner said.
“If I’m not going to charge and be paid for my work, then it sets this expectation that the person doing the hiring doesn’t need to pay other people for their work,” Wagner said. “So it devalues the whole process.”
More concerning, Wagner said, is that offers of exposure can prove disheartening to young, emerging artists.
“It almost deflates the confidence of an artist, making it a priority to value your skillset and your artistic innovation,” Wagner said.
UNC senior and photographer Ashley Seace said she has offered to photograph an event if she is able to attach her name to the images. But on other occasions, when she has been asked to photograph an event with the added stipulation "but we don't want to pay you," she was caught off guard.
“I was kind of insulted,” Seace said. “Just because you share my name to the public, that doesn’t always mean I’m going to get shoots from that. If you want quality work, you should be willing to pay for it.”
On UNC’s campus, programs such as Arts Everywhere aim to offer exposure to emerging student artists. Wagner said Arts Everywhere’s mission is to encourage student creativity and innovation by providing supplies and space to complete projects.
To fuel creativity for new artists, Arts Everywhere offers a student arts innovation grant to one undergraduate and one graduate student to commission their work to be displayed or performed on campus.
This grant is also a way that Arts Everywhere can offer not only compensation but overall support throughout the process.
Wagner said this grant serves as a statement from Arts Everywhere to the rest of the UNC community.
“Creative practice is important,” Wagner said. “We want you — no matter what field of study you choose to follow here at UNC — we want you to think creatively and think outside of the box, and we want to support that process.”
To change this culture, Seace said people need to start taking artists more seriously.
“It’s not just a hobby for some people,” Seace said.
For artists receiving these offers, Wagner said she encourages artists to reflect on if payment in exposure would truly be beneficial, not only to themselves, but to other artists who might be in this position later.
Advocating for your art and your craft confidently is difficult, especially for emerging artists, Wagner said, but a united effort of individual artists defending the value of their work is how this culture can be changed.
“With so many things, in order to change habits and culture, it’s going to take all of us standing up and saying ‘This is actually what’s fair,’” Wagner said.