Types of commission

This article introduces the different things an artist may be commissioned for and the sort of things a practitioner might need to consider before taking one on.

A ‘commission’ can cover a range of opportunities or services, including:

  • Producing a finished object or artwork
  • Producing a community project
  • Producing an event or activity
  • Producing an exhibition of new work
  • Further development of an evolving project or process
  • Research and development
  • A collaborative process within an institution/organisation

Different types of commissions will often be commissioned by different types of commissioners.  For example, an arts institution is more likely to commission a research and development project or experimental event from you than a private developer, who will be more interested in a community project or physical object.

It is important to understand that there will be different approaches to management and support depending on the type of commissioner who has commissioned you.  Here are some possible examples which offer a guide, but of course this type of relationship should be established during your first conversations and the expression of interest stage:

  • An arts organisation or institution will provide you with a wide range of support, from concept and creative development, to practical organisation to realise the work and will also publicise the work within their existing press and communications.  It is likely that you will be working with a team of people responsible for different elements, rather than just one person, which can be both useful but also time consuming.
  • An independent curator or commissioner will usually work very closely with you, and will be your point of contact for most elements of the project.  You will be expected to work together on elements such as fabrication and press and communications.
  • A private developer or local authority will often take a more distant approach, contracting you to deliver a specific project.  There will still be support available, but you will be expected to deliver most elements independently and have your own support network or suppliers to work with you.

Questions an Artist should consider about the commissioner:

  • What is the commissioner’s background and ethos? Look at other projects they have supported and how your work would fit into their portfolio.
  • Identify commissioning process – how does it fit with your approach? Is commissioner flexible and open to experimentation, to an evolving and collaborative approach, or are they very structured?
  • Be selective, keep vision and integrity of artwork, but also be open to new possibilities to gain experience

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