Working relationships in public art commissions

Learn how to develop a relationship with your commissioner so that you both get what you need out of a commission.

For the artist

  • It is your responsibility to deliver something of quality that is true to your practice and responds to the brief. Maintain artistic vision.
  • Plan regular meetings with the commissioner
  • Consider time and budget and practicalities – plan ahead and plan a contingency
  • It is reasonable to ask to be paid a proportion of the fee at the start of the commission to cover expenses (materials, travel etc). If it is a long project, you may also agree on a payment after reaching agreed goals or dates.
  • Develop trust and co-responsibility with people you work with. Be they volunteers, collaborators or partners.
  • Incorporate the unpredictable into the planning process
  • Develop a publicity and press strategy with the commissioner. Incorporate your project/work into the press they are already doing (their website, newsletters, other events, etc.)

For the commissioner

  • Be sensitive to the artist’s practice – commission them for the right kind of work
  • Consider cash flow for production. Make sure atists have enough funds at crucial time to buy materials
  • Supervise time and budget
  • It is your responsibility to support and manage the process/commission
  • It is your responsibility to accurately present the project to external audiences

Compromising practice with practicality

The nature of a commission is always to develop something from a concept or idea into reality.  This process will involve compromising your vision with what is practical and achievable.  It may be that your original concept is too expensive, will take too long, or that parts of it do not address the criteria set by the commissioner
 
It is important to maintain your vision and the integrity of your practice. At the same time, remember that a good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.  In other words, a small compromise to ensure your work gets realised, is better than a perfect concept that will never see the light of day.

For the commissioner

  • Be responsible for problem-solving
  • Be responsible for negotiating and finding a way forward for all problems
  • Vandalism – be responsible for planning ahead and develop an action plan for how to manage it when it happens

For the artist

  • Be responsible for your budget and ensure you can deliver within it. Do not expect there to be extra funding available. Don’t assume that the commissioner will come to the rescue if you go over budget
  • Simplify to what is necessary
  • Understand that problem-solving and negotiation is part of a process
  • If you are working with others on the commission, involve others in the decision-making process
  • Seek advice and share your experiences

Working with partners… in partnership?

Many commissions involve working in partnership with several organisations and stakeholders. This is especially the case if you are commissioning work for a public space.
Both commissioners and artist are responsible for managing partnerships associated with a commission:
 
Different types of partners could include…
  • Other funders – Arts Council, other trusts and funds, other agencies such as regional development agencies, and local authorities
  • Other members of staff – either in the commissioning arts organisation or the local authorities
  • Other professionals needed to advise on the projects – engineers, fabricators, architects, community representatives

The commissioner should

  • Present the aims and objectives of the project to partners so that everyone is working in the same direction
  • Liaise on behalf of the artist with local authority or other authorities
  • Explore loopholes
  • Asses priorities – artwork, partner or client?
  • Manage risk assessments for the project
  • Manage and complete funding reports
  • Be flexible and communicate the project in language and terms appropriate to each partner

The artist should

  • Pre-empt any conflict or confusion around the work
  • Be transparent about your working process
  • Treat each partner as equally important

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