UPDATE March 29th: BNE has updated his website and posted a statement claiming that Banksy and he had communicated about a shirt release, but that BNE decided to announce the shirt and make it available for sale before getting confirmation from Banksy that the collaboration was on. That logic is about as reasonable as me emailing Banksy and asking him about doing a solo show in my bedroom, and then announcing the show without hearing from Banksy. Because, why wouldn’t Banksy want to do a solo show in a college dorm in suburban Philadelphia?
BNE continues to resist the use of the word “scam” to describe what he did, but he fails to acknowledge the numerous lies that he told over the course of this “product launch,” from saying that he was collaborating with Banksy, to saying that he hadn’t sold people something that he presented as BNE x Banksy t-shirt, to saying that this whole thing was a “social experiment.” BNE doesn’t seem willing to acknowledge that at best he messed up by jumping the gun and then he flat out lied, and at worst he orchestrated a massive scam.
He also claims on his site that nobody who picked up on this story requested a comment from him. That’s not true, which I know because I emailed him and requested an interview. Maybe he missed my email, or maybe he ignored it. I don’t know.
But now BNE is offering refunds for those who request them (although I’m not sure how that will work since his PayPal account is frozen). I hope this time BNE gets my email, since I’ve emailed asking for a refund. I’ll be donating a portion of my refund to Living Walls and Give Directly.
BNE also says that he’s working to start a company that will sell a variety of basic necessities like sustainably made shampoo and t-shirts, with a portion of the proceeds going to charity. That sounds like a great idea for a company. If I still trusted BNE, I would probably support that business. But it also sounds like a B-Corp, and there are plenty of B-Corps that I’m willing to put a lot more trust into than whatever BNE comes up with.
Saturday was supposed to be a great day. BNE, a graffiti writer who has been raising money for water-related charities (primarily Charity:Water) through BNE.org since late 2011. Most of the money raised has been through the sale of products like t-shirts, lip balm, original artwork and stickers. Earlier this month, BNE released t-shirts by Invader, Shepard Fairey and Faile, some of the biggest names in street art. Shortly after all of those sold out, BNE announced that “a surprise from Banksy in support of our efforts to end the world water crisis” would be unveiled on BNE.org at noon on March 22nd, and that people who helped spread the word of the announcement beforehand would be entered “to win a collaborative gift from BNE + Banksy.”
Well, that was all a lie. BNE was not working with Banksy, and the t-shirts (which cost $92 including shipping to the USA) that were released at noon on the 22nd on BNE’s website just a few pixels away from a large Banksy logo were not done in collaboration with Banksy at all. It was all a ploy, or as BNE called it “a social experiment,” to raise money for Charity:Water, relying on the idea that people would be more likely to contribute to charity if they get something like a t-shirt in return. People were understandably outraged when they discovered that they had not in fact bought the Banksy t-shirt that they thought they had paid for. There’s a lot more to this story and it’s all a bit crazy, but Animal New York have done some great reporting on it, and I highly encourage you to read their post about what happened.
As a fan of BNE’s charity work, someone who has supported in some small way just about every fundraising campaign BNE has organized and a victim of this trick, I’m pretty upset. I’m all for pranks in art. Hell, I’ve even fallen for some before and the responsible thing to do is laugh at yourself. But this was no prank. This was BNE turning on his supporters. He’s lost my trust, and I won’t be supporting his projects in the future (if he manages to get anything off the ground after this fiasco).
It’s unclear at this point what is going to happen to the money that BNE got from his con. BNE donated the funds to Charity:Water almost immediately after the 500 t-shirts sold out, but it’s not clear that Charity:Water will be accepting his donation. At the same time, BNE promised Animal that he will be refunding every single buyer whether they specifically request it or not, but BNE’s PayPal account has been frozen.
While everything is in limbo for now, assuming that those of us who bought a shirt get our money back, I hope that a lot of it goes right back to charity. It’s easy to donate directly to Charity:Water, who were not involved in BNE.org and are only the recipients of BNE’s donation, and if you do want some great art in return for helping to fund a water-related charity, try this auction that Juxtapoz is involved with. This might also be a good time to mention the current fundraising campaign for the 2014 Living Walls Conference, which includes a matching grant from Atlanta’s Office of Cultural Affairs so that your donation goes even further.
Again, this whole fiasco is fascinating and ongoing, but if you’re at all interested, you should read Animal’s post about what has happened so far, including exclusive comments from BNE.
Photo illustration by RJ Rushmore, original photo by troykelly