MTA Backs Down in Fight Against East Village Metrocard Artist
On Friday we wrote about East Village artist Victoria, or VH, McKenzie, who had been creating oil paintings on discarded Metrocards and selling them on Etsy for $48 apiece. An MTA marketing intern, part of whose job it is to seek out unauthorized use of the MTA trademark, discovered the cards and emailed McKenzie to tell her to remove her art from Etsy. What followed was a series of emails between McKenzie and Mark R. Heavey, MTA Chief of Marketing & Advertising, and reporting on the situation in the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Gothamist, and others (as well as updates on McKenzie's Tumblr). It seemed that the MTA was adamant that the artist had to pay a licensing fee in order to continue to sell her work. But as of yesterday morning, the MTA had a change of heart.
McKenzie told us,
"I FINALLY got an email back from Mark Heavey. All of the MTA's comments in response to my complaint and question about the cease and desists before today have only come through the media. He was much more concilliatory in this email to me than was the intern who first issued the cease and desist, not to mention [his] stance in the media."
Here is Heavey's full email:
Thanks for your reply. To clarify our position, the issue is not that you are selling original art using MetroCard as a canvas. Rather, as you rightly suspected, it is how the MetroCard and MTA brands were invoked in your Etsy listing to market the product, which implies an endorsement by MTA. So, if you simply change the listing on Etsy to read something like Original hand-painted art on a NY transit fare card, and refrain from using an image of an original, unpainted MetroCard in the listing, you may continue to do what you are doing. This same advice should be heeded by other artists (including the art show you mention) to avoid this issue. You are not being singled out; we simply communicate about incidents as we find them. I wish you continued success with your fare card art project.
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McKenzie responded saying she'd done all of those things and also removed references to MetroCard. She said, "I did point out to Mark that in the wake of all the attention, I had sold virtually every card I had and that I had turned this initial lemon of a letter into lemonade."
He then wrote back:
Yes, the media does love a good David vs. Goliath story. Your revised listing is perfect. Continue to make lemonade!
Let's call this a win for the Davids, then.
We asked McKenzie where she found her stash of cards, and if she needed more given her recent upswing in sales. She said, "I've found all the MetroCards literally on the floor/platforms of subway stations that I frequent. Occasionally there will be an overflow of cards at the designated discard boxes near the card reader and I'll grab them from there, too. Every card has been found in a discarded state.
"Right now I have about 50 cards on hand, so I'm not in a huge rush for fresh 'canvas.' I can stroll on over to the L at 14th or the N/R at 8th St. and Broadway and usually find a handful. I'm keeping a growing mailing list of people who want to be alerted when the next batch of paintings are ready and also received several commission requests of people who have definite ideas for a card they'd like to have made. I'm open to discussion and always thinking about new ideas to paint on the cards -- NYC is different things to different NY'ers. For someone, it's the Statue of Liberty, for someone else it's a scrappy pigeon.
"They both work, right?"
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