Art and Architecture

The art and architecture debate continues, with priority being given to the encouragement of collaboration and the desirability of obtaining large-scale architectural commissions. The actual execution of this sort of work is less discussed, and could yet prove to be the downfall of many grand designs.

Setting up, organising and carrying out work in association with others, and involving high expenditure of clients' or sponsors' money, requires special skills, which are by no means the ones in which artists are currently trained or generally experienced. The successful exponents of art/architecture collaboration are men and women of tenacity, vision and a high degree of business ability. This article will examine the practical problems and possible solutions associated with a current large-scale project, with a view to helping others embarking on such schemes to plot an easier course to successful completion.

The Recipe
The recipe for the making of any piece, whether complex, vast, simple or small, is roughly the same for our purposes; assessment of needs and resources.

1. Needs
a) Finance. Money is required to pay for materials, services and administration, for preliminary models, maquettes, drawings, proofs and so on – and the Final piece.
b) Administration. Any work, but particularly large-scale installation, sculpture, murals, will usually require: permissions, technicians, administrative personnel; and the establishment of a business structure to handle the administration and finance.

2. Resources
To meet their needs artists can consider drawing upon the following resources:

  1. The artist him/herself;
  2. Voluntary assistants and advisers;
  3. Paid personnel;
  4. Copyright royalty fees;
  5. Income from the exhibition/exposition and dissemination of the project.

This list deliberately leaves out any call upon public funds (such as grants, awards and bursaries from arts councils, and local and regional arts bodies) which, for some artists, is the only real answer to meeting their needs for such projects. Specialised advice is available from funding bodies on the extent to which they can help, but many projects can only proceed if a 'self-support' structure can be created. The example project is of this type. Scale and ambition are central to the nature of the work – there can be no modifications, no half-measures, and the sums of money involved are prohibitive to those outside of the world of commerce.

The Long Roof

A Laser Light Sculpture

1. Background
In 1825, the City of Edinburgh commissioned the architect Playfair to design a museum and Monument to the Scottish soldiers who died in the Napoleonic wars. The Monument was to have been a reconstruction of the Parthenon, and the site chosen was the imposing Gallon Hill overlooking Princess Street and with a clear outlook to the West over the whole city and to the east across the North Sea.

Although the building work was started in 1829, Edinburgh faced financial difficulties and the scheme was abandoned, leaving to this day a row of eight Grecian pillars flanked by two on either side.

This structure is officially known as the National Monument, but locally is regarded as 'Scotland's Disgrace'.Naturally to those without this background knowledge the Monument is confusing – an old structure dominating the city that is obviously incomplete rather than ruined.

2. The Project
The project is to produce a large-scale laser light sculpture projected over the sea to the horizon, creating a fantasy roof over the Monument.

It will be at once a dramatic, dominant light sculpture, completely unique and the first of its type in the world.

3. The Objective
The aim of The Long Roof laser light sculpture to be projected from the Monument in Edinburgh is threefold:

  1. to create a unique, aesthetically pleasing new artistic highlight to the Edinburgh Festival, not only for those attending the Festival but for the people of Edinburgh, East Lothian and Fife. The sculpture will be shown from Aug 23 – Sept 5;
  2. to provide a practical demonstration of the progressive development of British technical expertise and artistic invention;
  3. to generate good public relations for the sponsors of the project, both in Scotland and the UK through all media, and also via a specially commissioned film to be circulated throughout the world.

The proposal goes on to explain the practical tests undertaken, publicity, switch on, exhibition, catalogue, background information on the artist and about a film of the project.

In using this work as an example for our purposes, a discussion of the subject matter is not relevant, but it is important to note that the artist conceived the idea nine years ago, saw it as obviously inappropriate for a gallery or for public funding; but did see the possibilities of using his copyright, exhibition/exposition and dissemination incomes as a way to generate the finance needed for its realisation, and explored all the angles during that nine-year period. The artist turned businessman.

How to make it

1. The Project
For the purposes of this analysis, the project can be broken down into five stages:

  1. preliminary trials and proofs;
  2. construction and installation;
  3. the finished work;
  4. exhibition/exposition of the finished work;
  5. dissemination of the finished work.

2. Needs
All five stages needed financing and administering.

  1. Finance. Obviously, money was needed to buy materials, technical services, administrative personnel, the artist's time, and administrative and travelling expenses.
  2. Administration

    1. Permissions. The first need was to find out who owned the Monument, the site and any access to it, and to get their permission: the local authorities. Also, the laser beams were likely to interfere with shipping (since they crossed the sea) and low-flying aircraft: the coast-guard, customs and excise, civil and military aviation authorities. Originally and prior to the preliminary trails, there was the need to find a site, possibly with a structure on it, to house the equipment to receive the laser beams, and high enough to give the right elevation. A hut in a field was found and the owner's permission had to be sought.
    2. Technicians. Could the necessary beams be created and transmitted satisfactorily: laser beam experts needed to be found – at a price. Could a structure be built on the Monument to throw out the beams and create the right lines of light: same again.
    3. Personnel. Who would organise the necessary permissions, technicians, finance, publicity, dissemination and so on, and do all the paper work involved.
    4. Establishment of a business structure.

What profile would be credible for the artist to adopt when dealing with the permitters, technicians, advisers, financiers and the public; and which would also enable the project to be efficiently administered.

3. Resources
All five project stages, to be financed and administered as described above, might look for help to the following:

  1. The artist. Input from the artist might cover all finance and administration through the five stages – but, on this scale of project, this would only be possible for the very rich artist who had all the expertise at his or her fingertips. The work required is certainly a full-time job, with need for particular skills and training, all of which would have to be paid for. Most artists, unable to buy in specialists, would still be able to give creative direction, some financial and administrative input, and whatever technical skill they had: plus a good deal of public relations time for credibility and publicity purposes.
  2. Voluntary assistants and advisers. Inevitable calls upon friends, relations, lovers and willing lackeys would have to be made – the excitement of the project acting as a carrot, and the satisfaction from involvement the stick. Legal advice and help was provided through Artlaw.
  3. Bought personnel. If funds were raised, all the administrative and technical needs could be paid for; but the money would have to be found in advance. Paid staff must therefore be limited initially to laser technicians and filmmakers.

4. Copyright Royalty Fees
Taking each stage of the project in turn, much could be achieved in advance.

  1. Preliminary trials and proofs. People might pay for the right to copy, publish, film and broadcast the drawings, sketches, plans, models, maquettes and even the trial proof on the site; all of these are important 'events' in themselves, and have a saleable copyright. A well-prepared and marketed proposal might induce TV, film-makers, journalists, other writers, publishers and so on, to be sufficiently interested in legitimately exploring and exploiting the artist's preliminary work – and paying for that privilege. The artist would be using his or her copyright to sell licences – exclusive or general, depending on the fee paid – to allow those interested to use the products of the preliminary work. Money raised in this way would pay for the trials and proofs to be done.
  2. Construction and installation. Having succeeded with the preliminary trials and proofs, any films, TV programmes, articles and so on, could be used to publicise the main 'event'. This might generate interest among other people (or, with luck, the same ones) to pay for rights to exploit the work during the construction and installation of the final piece. Such money would, again, be paid in advance and thus finance the second stage.
  3. The finished work. The finished work (which in this case would only exist for a short time) could also attract film and programme makers; plus those who might wish to make and sell postcards, posters, T-shirts, badges and so on, of the piece. Likewise the artist could sell in advance the right to do these things – or get advance financial backing and do them himself.

5. Exhibition/Exposition; Dissemination
The example work would remain in situ for a few weeks, and the artist could charge licence fees to those who might wish to photograph film, draw, paint etc., the work in its relationship to the site and to the immediate environment. These funds could form part of the overall project budget. Furthermore, the artist might disseminate the work by organising related exhibitions of preliminary drawings, plans etc., giving talks, lectures and seminars to public and private audiences, or appearing on radio and TV – all for fees which would pay the artist and any assistants for the costs of the exercise.

The Proof of the Pudding
None of the things described above are possible without an administrative structure. For The Long Roof a limited company was set up to carry out this type of work, with power to borrow money, make profits (and losses), employ personnel, buy services, have business premises, organise exhibitions and so on. This structure served a second – and crucial – function in convincing potential financial backers that the project, was sound and credible, with an efficient supporting administrative structure. The manifestation of the artist turned businessman.

If artists do not learn to exploit their own work legitimately, others may do so illegitimately, and may not pay for the privilege. Many a brilliant idea may remain gathering dust on the shelves of artists' minds or studios. Moreover, because such art works are not the traditional 'saleable object', it does not mean that the artist has nothing to sell, and that the public (through public funds) should be called upon to pay for their realisation in public. Much can be achieved through the energetic application of creative thought to financial, administrative and legal needs and resources: witness The Long Roof.

To return in conclusion to our example: Alan Smith's project has received financial backing for the preliminary trials and proofs, and he is about to sign a film deal in relation to the completed work. This should enable him to secure the necessary finance for the piece to be realised this summer at the Edinburgh Festival; and he is currently exploring other possibilities for promoting and exploiting the finished work. A combination of faith, judgement and sheer perseverance in pulling on bootstraps, seems to be poised to succeed in bringing off a remarkable work.

© Henry Lydiate 1982

With grateful thanks to Alan Smith for his co-operation and assistance in the preparation of this article.

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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.