A  group of designers in Guelph is speaking out about a city-sponsored contest they say amounts to asking for unpaid work from the city's artists and designers. 

The Verney water tower near Exhibition Park is scheduled for a new paint job in 2018, and the city is requesting design ideas from local artists who are over 18 years old. 

The winner will be decided by community vote and will receive $1,000. The two runners-up will receive $250 in prize money. 

Last week, a group of nineteen designers sent a letter to the city, opposing the contest because it provides no compensation for artists whose work isn't chosen. 

'City is selling itself short'

"There are well established guidelines for running requests for proposals, which is what this really should be," Gareth Lind, a designer in Guelph and one of the signatories, told The Morning Edition's Craig Norris. "They are asking professionals to work on this. It's not like a little poster which they're hanging up and asking kids and everyone to contribute to."

If the city wants something of quality, he said it should be willing to pay for it. 

"I would think that if they're painting something on a water tower that's going to last for fifteen years, they'll want some sort of quality standards," Lind said. "If it was a really clever concept that is put on that tower, it could be amazing, but the problem is the city is selling itself short by not asking for — by not actually paying for an established designer or artist to get a really good concept."

City won't change contest guidelines 

One example to emulate, he said, is the Gryphon outside the University of Guelph. 

"That was a six-figure amount they paid an artist to do that," he said. "It wasn't a pie-in-the-sky, let's put a contest to the community. This was well thought out and the result is people are taking selfies there all the time."

Since sending their letter, the designers have received a response from the city. 

Lind said the letter indicated the city doesn't plan to change its guidelines for this contest, but would consider it in future. 

"I think they have been quite open to discussing this issue," he said. "Presumably, if another water tower were to be opened up and painted or any other sort of contest that they'd be more conscious and actually pay artists and designers for what they do."