Importance of contracts

When working on projects for public spaces which can involve so many partnerships, contracts are vital, for you and for the commissioner.

As explained earlier, a contract is what both you and the commissioner agree that you as the artist will deliver.  You both have a responsibility to draft and review the contract so that you are both happy with it, and so that it creates security that a project will be delivered in a certain way.  The contract will then be referred to if either of you are unable to deliver what it is you agreed to.

For the commissioner to include in the contract:

  • Honesty and clarity on what is needed
  • Agreed aims and objectives for the project
  • Explain if there is a chain of contracts - the commissioner may be contracted by another client to deliver the project
  • Include health and safety issues, public liability, CRB checks etc.

For the artist to check and consider:

  • Agree a time to review the contract during the process
  • Get further advice if unsure
  • The contract will tie you in legally to deliver, but also to receive payment
  • Provide insurance, public liability and health and safety information to the commissioner
  • Provides you with copyright and authorship of work, intellectual property

What contracts should cover:

  • The Commission - including the brief and criteria
  • Scope of the work - exactly what the artist is responsible for
  • Acceptance and completion of work - including outline of services and/or products that you as the artist need to deliver before the work is considered ‘complete'
  • Responsibilities of commissioner - what they will agree to do for you
  • Delivery of work - responsibilities of the artist
  • Fees and Payments - including delivery timeline and payment schedule
  • Ownership of the work
  • Copyright and reproduction rights
  • Credits and moral rights
  • Termination of Agreement - by the commissioner and by the artist
  • Disputes

More specifically, it may include and should certainly consider:

  • Timescale
  • Dimensions and materials
  • Additional costs to be covered (e.g. travel)
  • If and when the work can be decommissioned
  • If and when (and where to) the work can be removed, and for what reasons
  • Whether you will be able to borrow back the work for exhibitions in future

Tip: Defining the scope of the work is probably the most important aspect of the contract to define as tightly as possible, especially when delivering something physical and permanent for a public space.  Physical objects or structures require preparatory work on site, installation supervision from other professionals, consultation and health and safety sign off.  Make sure it is clear what you are responsible for and what you are not.

More information on public commissions and contracts can be found in the Artlaw website articles, Public Art Commissions part one and part two, and the Commissioning an Artist overview also includes possible contracts for you to tailor to your specific needs.

This article is from the Artlaw Archive of Henry Lydiate's columns published in Art Monthly since 1976, and may contain out of date material.
The article is for information only, and not for the purpose of providing legal advice.
Readers should consult a solicitor for legal advice on specific matters. Artists can get free online legal information from Artquest.