Photo by Kyle West
Every so often, students walking through the McMaster University Student Centre are met with faces of The Beatles, large maps of the world and even prints of Banksy’s most popular works.
The Imaginus poster sale, which has been touring Canadian university and college campuses since 1975, is a staple of the university experience. It is not uncommon to see their posters plastered over the walls of dorms and off-campus housing.
The Imaginus poster sale is happening right now in MUSC!
— MSU Campus Events (@msucampusevents) January 31, 2019
At first glance, the poster sales seem innocent enough. For under $10, you can get away with two good-sized posters of your favourite band or quote — what could be wrong with that?
A lot, actually. The Imaginus poster sale has been critiqued in the past for selling posters that promote cultural appropriation, and poster sales in general have been scrutinized for the ethics of selling reproduced and borderline copyright-infringement artwork. This can especially raise eyebrows as it is rare that the collected profits ever reach the original artists.
But beyond the possible problematic nature of the content of their posters, the Imaginus poster sales take away opportunities from student artists. As it stands, McMaster University students cannot sell their artwork on campus for a profit.
According to the Policy on Student Groups, student groups on campus “may not engage in activities that are essentially commercial in nature.”
This policy is what caused the shutdown of an art sale by McMaster’s Starving Artists Society last year. The club is made up of student artists and creatives that are looking to expand their portfolio and reach a wider audience.
The event that was shut down was meant to be an opportunity for student artists to market their artwork to their peers and even profit off of their hard work. Many of Mac’s student artist community are involved with SAS and were negatively affected by the university’s decision to shut the event down.
Essentially, the university has allowed Imaginus to have an unfair monopoly on selling art on campus. For a university that already arguably disvalues the arts, to dissuade student artists from profiting from their work is a serious matter.
This brings to light a larger issue at hand. Why should any students be disallowed to sell their products on campus — especially when outside companies are given space in our student centre to sell their products?
This situation unfortunately reflects the situation of many non-student local artists within the community. In our corporate world, it is extremely difficult to establish a reliable clientele and profit off of one’s work. Mass commercialized products inherently cost less and as a result, this drives away sales from local artists.
As the university makes a profit from the poster sales, and in general from any vendors on campus, it is unlikely that this issue will be addressed anytime soon.
Until it is, you can support local and student artists through sharing their work, reaching out to them and contributing towards their sales. The SAS also runs art crawls and other events where students can get in contact with student artists!
Everyone has a Friends poster in their house. When you buy local and student, not only are you supporting your peers, but you’re likely acquiring higher quality and truly unique works of art.