The Bushwick Collective and McDonald’s Team Up to Screw Artists

The opening to a new McDonald’s ad featuring murals in Bushwick.

UPDATE (April 23rd, 2017): A group of artists whose work was used in this campaign without their permission is now threatening legal action against McDonald’s.

Many artists are feeling betrayed this week, as they realize that their art has been used without their permission in a McDonald’s advertisement, apparently thanks to the cooperation of The Bushwick Collective‘s Joe Ficalora.

As first noted by Brooklyn Street ArtMcDonald’s new ad campaign for the “New York Bagel Supreme” (a burger/bagel hybrid launching in the Netherlands) centers on “the vibe of Bushwick.” They got that local flavor from The Bushwick Collective, one of New York’s more well-known mural projects. A cornerstone of the campaign is a 4-minute advertisement (UPDATE: McDonald’s appears to have taken the advertisement offline, but we’ve uploaded a copy to Facebook) with Bushwick Collective founder Joe Ficalora giving a tour to highlight his project’s collection of murals. Except… At least two of the murals in the ad aren’t even Bushwick Collective murals (despite what is implied) and at least five artists whose work is featured did not give their permission for McDonald’s to use their work.

Lmnopi’s mural, as featured in the ad. The mural was not painted as part of The Bushwick Collective.

On Facebook, Lmnopi made her feelings clear:

McDonald’s just teamed up with the Gentrifying Bushwick Collective to exploit street art in Brooklyn to sell Burgers in Netherlands. This will not stand. They did not get my permission to use my work in their psuedo doc and the mural is NOT part of the Bushwick Collective. PERIOD

Similarly, Beau Stanton was unaware that his work was featured in the ad until someone sent him a link to the video. Stanton’s mural was commissioned by the building owner, and is not affiliated with The Bushwick Collective either.

A mural by Beau Stanton is featured in two shots in the ad. The mural was not painted as part of The Bushwick Collective.

I was also able to reach NDA, Louis Masai, and one other artist who declined to have their name published. While all three did paint with The Bushwick Collective, they were unaware that their work was being used in an advertisement until this week.

Louis Masai’s mural was painted as part of The Bushwick Collective, but he never licensed it to be used in an ad.

Masai told Vandalog, “I definitely did not get asked for my inclusion and more over….I would not in a million years have consented my inclusion…” On Facebook, he added, “I under no conditions have sanctioned this and I want to make it very clear to anyone that might see my work in this advert, that I hate with a passion McDonalds [sic] not just for suppressing children and actively promoting the many dietary illnesses around the world but even more so for wiping out the many hundreds of acres of rainforest in the amazon.”

Crucially, while some mural projects may retain some rights to license projects that they commission (typically in partnership with the artist), that’s not the case here. “Joe doesn’t have any rights over my work…no one has rights over my work except for me,” Masai said.

None of the artists that I spoke with were paid for having their murals used in the ad, licensed their work to McDonald’s or The Bushwick Collective, or knew about the video in advance.

McDonald’s did hire (and pay) at least some of the artists featured in the video, since six of them are being flown to Amsterdam to paint graffiti-like McDonald’s billboards. Here’s Sipros’ billboard.

To sum up, McDonald’s used the work of at least five (but possibly dozens) of artists in an advertisement without their permission or any payment, and it appears that Ficalora has put his stamp of approval on all of it, even giving a false impression of being involved in murals that he had nothing to do with.

As an aside, this wouldn’t be the first time that McDonald’s has used the work of street artists and graffiti writers without permission.

Now what? Artists’ reputations have been damaged. Will McDonald’s be pulling the ad and paying the artists whose work they used without permission? That’s unclear. The Bushwick Collective? Will artists still paint at a mural project that will turn around and use murals to sell hamburgers without the artists’ permission?

Compare this situation to how The L.I.S.A. Project NYC, another NYC-based mural project, functions. L.I.S.A. founder Wayne Rada seems as upset about this situation as many of the artists, because they work with brands too, but they approach brand and licensing requests very differently. For example, when L.I.S.A. was approached by an upcoming film about including two of their existing murals in the background of some shots, Rada went straight to the artists for their sign-off. In the end, he negotiated a licensing deal that raised money for L.I.S.A., got artists paid, and kept everyone happy.

“It just seems to me that Bushwick Collective initially started as a good thing, and then early on in its evolution has turned into a promotional tool for Joe [Ficalora],” Rada concluded.

Ficalora has not responded to repeated requests for comment.

All images are frame grabs from McDonald’s Nederland’s YouTube video