It can be difficult to put a price on art. A beautiful, painstakingly crafted painting might sell for less than $100 at a coffee shop, while a banana duct-taped to a wall fetches $120,000 at Art Basel. A van Gogh is priceless, and a digital NFT could go for a quarter million.
Some art is worth exactly $40,000 in student debt relief (so far). Just ask our Makerspace Manager, Jacquie Tull…
It all started with affordable beer. The most affordable beer. The banana-duct-taped-to-a-wall of beers. Natty Light.
“I believe it was the summer or fall of 2019 that I was hanging out with a group of friends and someone mentioned the Natty Light Competition. They said you could win a lot of money to help pay off your student loan debt by submitting a video, and being that I have over $80,000.00 in student loan debt, I was intrigued” says Tull. “I knew that if I had a chance at winning I would have to do something big to separate myself from the majority of submissions. I am a sculptor, so my thought was that I had to come up with a sculpture that would capture the attention of the Natural Light marketing team, and make a video of the process. There is an eagle on the Natural Light cans, so that seemed like a perfect opportunity…”
Tull started by purchasing some 1/4″ round bar mild steel, which is firm enough to hold a shape, but flexible enough that it can be bent with a little leverage such as a vice, or shaped more precisely using a torch. Starting with the eagle’s feet, she built an armature by bending the steel and using precision TIG welding for construction. With the armature complete, she attached expanded sheet steel to the rods to create a skin. This process required wrestling the metal sheets into their final shape and then delicately welding the metal lattice to the eagle’s skeleton, being careful not to vaporize the thin mesh.
Jacquie then collected several Natty Light cans from friends and students (who were of drinking age), used a Dremel to cut off the tops and bottoms, unfurled the cans into flat sheets, and further shaped them into individual feathers.
“At several points I asked myself how crazy I was. I was going in to [Nextfab’s metal shop] after hours several times a week to work on this big silly thing for a contest I had no guarantee of winning, and it had nothing to do with my regular studio work.”
Filming the project added another layer of time-consuming work. In order to meet a March 2020 deadline, Tull worked down to the wire – bending, welding, stopping to capture footage, cutting beer cans, attaching feathers to wire mesh, and editing her video for the competition.
One submission later and no news from Natural Light made it seem as though the hard work may have been for naught. But if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
Tull reframed her story, re-edited her video, and entered the contest again in 2021. A few weeks later it all paid off.
“I got a direct message from the company in my Instagram account asking for my email address and some other info… They followed up with an email asking for my transcripts and permission to do a background check… a few weeks later I got notification that I had won $40,000.00 to put toward my student loans.”
She called friends and family, shedding tears over the news.
“For the longest time my student loan debt has felt impossible to pay off despite making consistent payments on it for years. This money will put a dent in that debt and make it more manageable. I am very grateful for the opportunity to submit to the contest and for all of the folks at Nextfab, Swarthmore, and friends and family that helped and encouraged me along the way. The eagle is still hanging out in my garage and I’m figuring out what to do with it.”
Here’s an idea: auction it off. Let’s start the bidding at one roll of duct tape and a banana. That is to say, $120,000 …a bargain if you ask me.