Working relationships in public art commissions

Learn how to develop a relationship with your commissioner so that you each get what you need out of the 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 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 planning process
  • Develop publicity and press strategy with the commissioner – incorporate your project/work into the press work 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 in terms of production, making sure they have enough at the 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 and fairly present 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.  Along this process, there is always an element of having to compromise your practice with what is practical and achievable.  It may be that your original concept is too expensive, or will take too long, or that parts of it do not address the brief or criteria set by the commissioner.  It is important to maintain your vision, practice and integrity for the work, but 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 make sure that your plans are deliverable within it – do not expect there to be extra funding available, or 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?

Partnership is another element that often comes with many commissions, especially if you are commissioning a work for a public space.  It is both the commissioners and artist’s responsibility to manage the 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 loop holes
  • 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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