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Ferry Market in New Hope Cancels Controversial Art Contest

Ferry Market is currently under construction.

Facing a wall of online anger over an online art contest it designed without a cash prize for winners, Ferry Market in New Hope on Thursday decided to “eliminate” the competition altogether.

Two winners of the contest would have been allowed to paint large murals on the walls of the much-anticipated upscale food center, along with receiving a plug in the Herald, but no cash compensation would be awarded.

That outraged local artists, who took to Facebook to air their grievance, only to see many of their posts also eliminated. The social media heat became so intense by Wednesday, that Ferry Market appeared to disable its entire Facebook page, along with several hundred followers. On Thursday, Ferry Market was still nowhere to be seen on Facebook, but the company web page contained an announcement on the demise of the ill-fated contest:

To the people of this community, we have cancelled the Murals in the Market art decorating idea. Please understand that Murals in the Market was developed to mirror a very successful event in Detroit that honors graffiti. We have great respect for the outstanding community of artists in the New Hope/Lambertville area and hoped this idea would be embraced here. Because of the strong and unexpected reaction, we have decided to eliminate the contest and continue our focus on creating the best possible market for the community.

Ferry Market, the former Four Seasons Mall at 32 S. Main St. bought in 2015 by Bucks County Playhouse and Playhouse Inn owners Kevin and Sherri Daugherty, began promoting the “mural design and execution contest” in early September, when they encountered similar artist community pushback on Facebook.

“Calling all artists, creative minds, and visionaries,” read the Ferry Market publicity material. “Ferry Market, the culinary experience you’ve been waiting for, needs the artistic touch of two lucky local artists. Murals in the Market is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become a permanent part of this new, unique, artisanal market.”

“Fellow artists…. please do not compete to ‘win’ the prize of doing nearly 300 square feet of UNPAID original art,” responded Solebury artist Dar James on Facebook. “Working artists deserve to be paid just like everyone else who is making the Ferry Market come to life. Shame on them. Competition = Free Art.”

James’ posts on multiple Facebook pages helped set off an online fury by those who likened the contest to the whitewashing of the picket fence in “Tom Sawyer.” A second wave of rage was ignited by what some saw as the whitewashing of critical Facebook posts on several pages.

Sketch of finished Ferry Market.

James said that when she first visited the contest website, it touched a nerve.

“It felt like another one of those cases where artists are supposed to be grateful for doing free work,” she recalled. “What’s really sad is that Ferry Market missed an opportunity to make us part of building something, just like the contractors and designers. We’re professionals — this is our work.”

“Is Ferry Market a for-profit business, charging rent for their space?” asked Susan White of New Hope in a post. “If so, they should pay for interior/exterior decor, not ask for volunteers. Ask artists to apply for the job & then pay them as you would any contractor.”

“Was there a contest for the construction crew?” she added.






About the author

Charlie Sahner

“Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy." - Einstein


  • The idea of a contest like the one here is insulting to working artists. Perhaps they should have tried to get free labor from a local high school student. Terry you don’t understand the work and life artists. The owner’s of this market are completely tone deaf.

  • If an artist chooses to do this work for free, even after reading about Rebecca’s experience, that is their choice. Other artists should respect that. I know free speech is getting attacked, but now your free will?

  • It’s too bad they didn’t take the opportunity to engage in a productive discussion with the art community and come to a solution of compensation that rewards the artists for their work. There is smething to be sajd for the emotional fragility of ego mixed with entitlement that leads companies and individuals to believe that artists exist to serve them for free.

    When I was an emerging artist I was sucked into a similar contest thinking the exposure would be amazing. I never received one single inquiry about the mural, received zero business from it, the store owners put a fixture in front of my signature and contact information and during the painting process there were dozens of criticisms and adjustments they wanted made. About 4 hours into a 110 hour project I realized the huge mistake I’d made by applying for the contest.

  • I see it differently. If I was given the opportunity to
    Paint a large mural on the wall that will be seen by thousands & thousands of visitors, I’d think I would JUMP at the opportunity. I’d be very proud &
    Would receive incredible publicity.

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