Started: 2017

Time/labour: ︎︎︎︎︎

Thanks to: Andrew Christie (casting, 3D printing/scanning), Josh Gilchrist (screenprinting), Kirtika Kain (factory), Love Police (merch supplies), Benjamin Forster (hacked Shopify platform), Jane Wolfers (sewing), Underbelly artists + everyone who bought merch

economy // merchandise // patronage // privilege // support // labour // conversations // online


Image: Make or Break, Merch Stand, 2017, image of bicycle cart during Underbelly Arts Festival, photo by Tim da-Rin.
MERCH STAND creates a speculative economy and collective income stream within an experimental arts festival. It is a framework for providing direct financial support to artists, while critiquing the arts festival model and its underpaying of artists working in performance, experiential and ephemeral practices. It is also a platform for hosting difficult conversations around value, labour and privilege.

Merch Stand was first commissioned for Underbelly Arts Lab & Festival in 2017. Make or Break collaborated with each of the 21 Festival artists and collectives to produce custom merchandise. The merch was produced and packaged in an on-site “factory” staffed by the artists and volunteers, and sold live at the festival via a bicycle-powered cart, and online via a hacked Shopify platform. As part of the sales process, buyers could choose to pay market value or real  labour costs, and offset different kinds of privilege through additional levys. A Pay The Rent tax was also automatically added to each sale, replacing GST, and paid to a local Aboriginal organisation at the completion of the project, which took place on stolen land.

At the end of the Festival, all merch income was redistributed equally among the artists and collectives, adding an additional 25% to the amount that each artist had been paid by the Festival as a commissioning fee. At the conclusion of the Festival, Make or Break commissioned an audit report from artist and writer Isabelle Sully.

Merch Stand was first commissioned for Underbelly Arts Lab & Festival, with support from City of Sydney, the Australia Council for the Arts, NAVA & Create NSW.

Isabelle Sully: Audit Report

Media and publications:
Runway Journal: Make or Break Late at The Lab
Financial Review: Underbelly Arts Festival: Where the merchandise is the art (paywall)
TimeOut: Review