Briefs and contracts for public art commissions

A commission will lead to a contract for you, as an artist, to create something to a specified brief. That brief is set by the commissioner and can be very loose or very specific.
This article focuses on a public art brief, or a brief that involves public engagement. Many of its principles are applicable to other types of commission.

The Commissioner

A Commissioner will
  • Create an opportunity for an artist to produce something new AND specific.
  • Will produce a brief that outlines what they want from the artist
  • Will agree with the artist that they can deliver the brief
  • Will agree to work in collaboration with the artist
  • Provide an opportunity to bring criticality to an artist’s practice
A commission for an Artist provides the following
  • An opportunity to develop and realise an idea
  • A paid job
  • A chance to put work in the public realm, with different communities and audiences
  • An agreement to work with the commissioner from developing an idea for a work to its completion.
  • An agreement to work within a budget and timeline
It is important to remember that every commission is different and specific. Working to commission is a process to be learned through experience. Keep a diary or notebook of your first commission. Write down anything that does not go according to plan, so that you can learn for the next time.

What is a brief?

The brief will be set by the commissioner.  Depending on the project, the brief may be flexible or developed in conversation.  This is something that you should discuss with the commissioner at the start of the process.
A brief should include
  • The overall vision, aims and objectives
  • Context – history, background to project
  • Information on the commissioner
  • Physical or technical constraints
  • Role of the artist – scope of what you will need to deliver
  • Project management structure
  • Copyright and ownership
  • Budget – what is and isn’t included
  • Time frame with key dates
  • List of what the artist needs to deliver e.g.
    • detailed budget
    • initial drawings and plans
    • documentation of process

The difference between a brief and contract

At this point in the process, the difference between a brief and a contract can be confusing:
  • A Brief is what the commissioner wants from the project
  • A Contract is what the artist and commissioner have agreed to deliver

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