Nova Scotia

Urban Outfitters pays up after Halifax artists speak out

Members of the Halifax arts community are speaking out after Urban Outfitters management asked a local photographer and writer to create a photo guide without pay for their Halifax store's grand opening.

American retailer now paying after contracting Halifax photographer and writer

Alexa Cude says she took this photo and over 400 others for Urban Outfitters. (Alexa Cude / Urban Outfitters / Instagram)

Members of the Halifax arts community are speaking out after Urban Outfitters management asked a local photographer and writer to create a photo guide without pay for their Halifax store's grand opening.

The major North American retailer, based in Philadelphia, opened a store Thursday on Barrington Street.

To promote the new location, Urban Outfitters asked author Hollie Uffindell and photographer Alexa Cude of Halifax to take photographs and write about the city for the company's corporate blog and social media accounts. The women produced an article the retailer calls "our guide" to Halifax.

The two women were not initially paid for for their time or content. 

Both women say they knew they were not going to be compensated and were happy to do the work in exchange for exposure to a larger audience. Cude said she believed the benefits "outweigh the fact I wasn't getting paid."

Cude, 25, took three days off from her job to take over 400 photographs for Urban Outfitters.

Her photo of Peggys Cove at sunset is now one of the most popular in the company's Instagram account with nearly 114,000 likes. As a result, she gained several hundred new followers.

Uffindell, 18, says while the process was enjoyable, she does feel their names should have been featured more prominently.

After the CBC inquired, the clothing giant — which owns more than 200 stores across North America —  is now paying up. They had credited Uffindell and Cude, but only reimbursed them for expenses.

Urban Outfitters has paid others to do similar work in the past. Photographers in Winnipeg and Tulsa, Okla., as well as a writer were all paid for helping to create city guides.

Arts community 'disappointed'

Prior to hearing that Urban Outfitters will now be paying the two women, the local arts community criticized the clothing giant for taking advantage of the photographers' inexperience. 

Ann Denny, committee member to the Halifax Arts Coalition and founder of Youth Art Connection, said she was "disappointed" in the retailer.

"It's going to weaken the overall creative economy if the business community isn't valuing artistic output," said Denny.

Susan Tooke, vice-president of the non-profit Canadian Artists Representation, said the promise of exposure to a larger audience has been heard so many times artists now joke they are "dying of exposure."

"We have mortgages, we have rent to pay ... and we should be fairly compensated," said Tooke.

Denny's advice to young artists is to contact their local arts community when they're approached to do work. They should ask about fair compensation, their legal rights, and how to minimize efforts if the work is unpaid.

Retailer responds

Urban Outfitters asked an author and photographer to produce content for their corporate blog without pay. (iStock)

Urban Outfitters responded to CBC via email saying they have traditionally paid contributors for editorial work and they will be paying Uffindell and Cude.

The two young women maintain payment beyond their expenses was never discussed prior to CBC's inquiries.

Uffindell has since received an offer of payment but Cude has not yet heard from the company.

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