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Creative practitioners are being told “you have the power to change the world” but responses to its creative brief will be rewarded with profile and exposure, not cash.

Russian dolls with Covid masks

Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash

The United Nations (UN) has put out a call for artists to translate critical public health messages around Covid-19 into work that will engage and inform people in communities and cultures across the world.

“You have the power to change the world”, artists have been told, and “the UN needs your help to stop the spread of coronavirus.” It is asking creatives to submit “a range of creative solutions to reach audiences across different age groups, affiliations, geographies and languages”.

No fees are being offered for the work, which is viewed as an opportunity for creatives to contribute to the global fight against the pandemic while raising their profile across the world, including among major corporations. The UN says: “No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. Together, we can save lives, protect resources and care for each other”.

‘Lean in’

The brief is aimed at artists and creatives in all artforms and media, and from any country in the world. The key messages to be shared are personal hygiene; physical distancing; knowing the COVID-19 symptoms; myth-busting; encouraging donations; building ‘kindness contagion’; and acting in solidarity.

As soon as the brief was announced last Monday, the UN was overwhelmed with enquiries from artists and creatives around the world and has passed the project over to international agency Talenthouse artworks, which specialises in matching commercial clients with artists and creatives. The agency, whose pipeline of creative briefs from corporate clients has contracted hugely since the coronavirus crisis began, is offering its services free of charge to support the UN’s efforts. It is working with the UN’s Covid Response Hub which is coordinating support for global action to fight coronavirus, including asking for free space and time on media platforms where its health messages can be shared.

Talenthouse co-founder Maya Bogle explained: “Everyone is being asked to ‘lean in’ to help the world. Some people can afford to donate money while others can donate their skills and expertise. The creativity of artists can bring about change in entire communities around the world. Harnessing their skills for the huge challenge we face will be a vital part of the efforts to keep people safe, especially in countries that have very limited access to healthcare services.”

Overwhelming response

The UN, which is an intergovernmental organisation that exists to maintain international peace and achieve international cooperation, originally envisaged “a minimum of 10 pieces of work” being chosen by a selection panel. The aim is for the shortlist of most suitable work to be published on a UN-approved hub – a microsite where media, corporations and influencers around the world can obtain quality materials to share across their platforms to educate and inform the public.

Such has been the interest in the brief that the number of submissions to be published is likely to run into thousands. A team of 18 people across Talenthouse and the UN is reviewing the work, but “it is not a competition”, explained Bogle. “Everything that accurately reflects the brief, presenting accurate and unambiguous messages, will be presented on the site”.

She told AP: “Talenthouse took over this project from the UN earlier this week. So far we have received 2,261 multimedia creative submissions from across the world. By the time it closes on 9th April we are expecting many thousands more, which will make the microsite an absolutely invaluable source of accurate and persuasive messages that people can share.”

No fees

Bogle is philosophical about the fact the UN are offering no artist fees for their work. “Talenthouse would never normally promote an opportunity where the creator's work is used with no fees attached, but these are unprecedented times. All the money donated to the UN is being used to support medical efforts around the world, and while we would normally be the first to champion the payment of proper fees to artists and creatives, it feels like this is the one time to make an exception.”

Artists who submit their work are told that doing so means they “agree to grant the UN, all supporters and else anyone who wants to share this positive message” permission to use it.  

This statement gives limited protection to artists, who will retain their copyright but have very little control over the publication of their work. Anyone who does use the work will be asked to credit the creator, though this can’t be guaranteed. Bogle said: “If any organisation or individual attempts to use the content for commercial purposes, rather than to support the UN’s efforts, we will be asking them to pay the creators.”

The UN hopes that the exposure gained by artists whose work is widely shared will bring them recognition that will benefit them in the longer term.

Liz Hill