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About that Art Fight announcement

The short version: Suffice it to say I will not be doing Art Fight next year.

The long version:

Art Fight has been an overflowing fount of drama and intrigue for the past few months. It came out towards the end of July that the owner had been skimming money for themselves from user donations, despite those donations being earmarked for "server and image hosting, site assets, and other expenses directly related to Art Fight and its development," quoted straight from that webpage:


In particular, the owner has taken a pretty big chunk of money, to the point where they're not even sure how much they've actually taken:

Once all this came out, there was a huge meltdown, with a bunch of the staff resigning, and there was a lot of uncertainty as to whether Art Fight would even be able to conclude at the end of the month as scheduled. The chaos continued when the owner announced they would step down, but only on Discord. This announcement was followed up by one of the new admins announcing the site's ownership would change hands, but not much more than that. Also only on Discord. A news post on the actual website was promised.

Art Fight ended without incident at the end of July. Still no news post, but users were reassured that a news post would be coming at the end of August. They were also cryptically told not to harass the staff without any context about where this harassment might be coming from.

At the beginning of September (still no news post), the new admins posted an update saying that the news post would be delayed due to legal issues. At this point, there has still been no official announcement about the owner stepping down, which should have been fine to announce since it was already out on the Discord server, but what do I know?

Anyway, this was all a mess, but I chalked it up to the new admins getting thrown into this situation unexpectedly and not knowing how to do good PR. Because this PR was rancid.

Jump to now, and we finally have a news post! And it sure is a doozy!


The post begins by finally giving an official announcement of the ex-owner's resignation. It moves into talking about what exactly happened with the whole resignation snafu at the end of July, and, uh.... Wait, what?

Financial transparency had broken down over the years. The lack of communication to the staff team regarding financials attributed to this - even if it wasn’t done intentionally or maliciously.

No factual statements about what has happened. Just meaningless euphemistic bluster about quote unquote financial transparency.

As admins, we did NOT have an issue with Takaia paying themself as the owner of Art Fight, and we sincerely believe people should be fairly compensated for the work that they do. While we understand there wasn’t ill intent behind anyone’s actions, the lack of transparency regarding financial issues and a lack of site development made us feel disjointed as a team and made it hard to perform our admin duties.

Here's the first mention of anything even tangentially related to what caused all of this, and... uh... that's a weird way to say that the owner was taking money that hadn't actually been given to them without telling the people whose money they were taking, but okay. So I guess this is just a labor rights issue now?

Additionally, we would like to reiterate that harassment towards any involved individual is unwarranted and will not be tolerated. [...] Any further harassment towards any involved individual for any reason will result in a ban.

While I obviously think harassment here is unproductive, I have to wonder what qualifies as harassment after the weird whiteknighting they just did for the old owner.

After a bit of fanfare for a third new co-owner, we get a short section on finances, which includes this tidbit:

First and foremost, we do want to reiterate that Art Fight was a sole proprietorship. Takaia, as the owner, worked under this sole proprietorship for approximately $12/hr, which is far below living wage.

Once again, we're framing this whole thing as the owner just trying to make a living off their labor - this time by dividing the money they took into an hourly wage instead of listing the lump sum that was listed in the screenshot above. That's not how this works! That's not how any of this works!

Finally, we get an "apology" from the old owner, which continues to frame this whole thing as a little oopsie woopsie miscommunication/lack of transparency problem:

I wanted to take a quick moment to apologize for communication deteriorating within the team towards the end of my time as owner of Art Fight. I never intended to let it break down like that, but good intentions don’t really excuse the fact that I let the team down. I also wanted to sincerely thank the staff who stayed behind to hold down the fort while things were sorted out at the end of the 2023 fight. You kept Art Fight alive, and I’m very grateful for that. I am, however, deeply sorry I put you in that position because I know how hard it was and I wish I hadn't put you through that.

And also an update clarifying that the money wasn't embezzeled from a legal standpoint, which is the closest this entire post has gotten to admitting the owner fucked up by taking money they weren't entitled to:

As mentioned in the original newspost, we as now co-owners have access to Artfight's funds and can verify that the money from Art Fight's donations were not embezzled.

Throughout this whole debacle and now the update to the debacle, there hasn't been any straightforward acknowledgement of what the old owner did, which is take money that users donated thinking it would go towards website development and lie about it until they got cornered about where the money was going.

The problem here isn't that the owner wasn't entitled to compensation for the work they were doing on the website - it's that the people donating money didn't consent to having their donations used for the owner's personal expenses!

And it's not like Art Fight has been running well lately - its servers strain under normal user traffic and completely buckle during high-traffic times, and there are some really basic features like comment replies that still haven't been implemented. (And bugs, because there are always bugs.) I don't think the money-grabbing would have been justifiable even if Art Fight was running at the top of its game, but it would have been a little more understandable.

This clearly wasn't done with malicious intent, or the owner would have taken a lot more than they did. I have no idea why they didn't just come out and say they would be using some of the money for personal expenses - people donate to strangers on the internet for a lot less these days! I don't think it's unreasonable to think they might have gotten *more* money if people knew their money would also be directly supporting the website owner. (See crowdfunding platforms like Patreon, where people know their money is being split between content production and personal income for the creator.)

Having an actual formal budget and posting it online would have been even better, both for helping people know where their money was going, and for allowing them to actually take a decent income rather than shaving off the minimum amount to avoid getting caught.

So, if it was just that, I wouldn't really think anything of it. It's not right and I'd still expect a pretty contrite apology, but shit happens and I would think they're well aware of the hole they dug themselves into here. But it's not just that, because I'm writing a 100-page dissertation about this news post!

This news post makes it sound like the new admins have decided everything is just fine and dandy and that the old owner didn't really do anything wrong, other than not being "transparent enough." I don't claim to know whether they actually feel this way, but this is the tone they've set in this post, to the point that it starts feeling weirdly manipulative and guilt-trippy: How dare you be upset over being lied to about where your money was going! Don't you think the old owner deserved to be paid for their labor? They weren't even getting paid living wage for this! Nevermind that you never consented for your money to be used to pay them!

But don't worry, we're listening and we're addressing this issue:

From this point onwards, what we previously called “donations” will instead be referred to as “contributions” to clear up and avoid any further confusion.

There's a lot of hoopla about posting a real budget and actually paying developers to work on the website. I hope they actually follow up on this, because it's the least they could do for the people who have been throwing money at Art Fight all this time.

But I can't continue brushing the complete mismanagement of the admin transition up to ineptitude after reading this update, and I don't feel good supporting Art Fight even indirectly by using and promoting it, so this is it for me. Fortunately, I don't need a dysfunctional website to continue surprising people with art!


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