Public Art Practice for Artists and Commissioners


About Public Art
While all art should be considered ‘public art’, in general, we have come to understand this term to refer to artworks that are located within the public domain – outside of the traditional arts institution, such as the gallery, theatre or concert hall – and where the underlying ambition for the work is to engage in various ways with public audiences and open up possibilities for access to and participation in the arts. A critical feature of public art is therefore the interrelationship between the artist and the artwork, the context (location – site, social, geographical aspects etc) and the public (audience(s) /participants).

While synonymous with the Per Cent for Art Scheme and permanent public sculpture, Public Art is by definition much broader and more complex than this. Alongside artworks commissioned under the Per Cent for Art Scheme, it can also include monuments and memorials, landmark sculpture and works incorporated into architectural design. It overlaps into collaborative practice and new genre public art with its more overtly political agenda. It has always touched into the areas of community practice, arts-in-health and arts-in-education, where the priority focus is often on an active engagement of participants. To an extent public art overlaps with various trends within contemporary arts practice and where artists’ engagements with the ‘real world’ are lodged within the broad practice of everyday life, or which place an emphasis on inter-human relations.

Public art, is not the exclusive domain of visual art practices and includes all art forms and practices – performance, music, theatre, literature, architecture, street spectacle, dance, opera, multi-media, interdisciplinary practices etc. Sometimes, at its more radical or experimental, it supports a blurring of boundaries between art forms, encouraging cross-referencing and a dissolution of disciplines. Further, with increasing interest in artistic processes and the building of relationships, public art supports alternative agendas for experimentation and dialogue, whereby the art made might be considered more as a by-product of these relationships, placing an emphasis not so much on a finished artwork or site (architectural or geographic) but rather as Miwon Kwon suggests on ‘social networks or intellectual exchange or cultural debate’.

Patricia C. Philips, former editor of Artforum Magazine and currently director of Fine Art at Cornell NY gives a good description of public art and its scope –’public art excludes no media, materials, process or form, the work can be permanent or temporary, it can be commissioned through funding programmes, such as the percent for art scheme or initiated by artists requiring no sanction. With a broadening concept of public – it can happen almost anytime, with anyone and virtually anywhere…even in galleries, museums and private settings. Public art is always art’.

Who Funds Public Art? – The Per Cent for Art Scheme
Public art is funded through a number schemes and funding programmes including The Per Cent for Art Scheme .

About the Per Cent for Art Scheme
Application for Per Cent for Art Funding
– Pooling of Funds
– Public Art Specialists
– Public Art Advisory Groups
– Curatorial Advice and Project Management
– The National Guidelines

-The Per Cent for Art Scheme
The Government decision of August 1997 approves the inclusion in budgets for all publicly funded capital construction projects of up to 1% as funding for an art project, subject to limits as follows:

  • Construction projects costing up to €2,550,000 may include an art budget of 1% of net construction costs i.e. €25,500
  • For projects costing between €2,550,000 and €6,300,000, an art budget of 1% up to a maximum of €38,000 is allowed
  • For projects costing between €6,300,000 and €12,700,000, an art budget of €51,000 is allowed
  • For projects in excess of €12,700,000, an art budget of €64,000 is allowed.

Local Authorities and Government Departments
While predominately utilised by local authorities, Udaras na Gaeltachta and the Office of Public Works (OPW) under the Department of the Environment and Local Government, the Per Cent for Art Scheme is available to all government bodies.  The Per Cent for Art Scheme funds new art commissions for Housing (social and affordable schemes); Transport and Roads; Environmental schemes such as drainage schemes, pump stations and reservoirs; for public buildings such as libraries, public offices, schools, hospitals, medical centres; prisons; arts buildings – cinemas, theatres, art centres, alongside conservation programmes and urban and village renewal schemes. Other government departments such as the HSE and the Department of Education and Science have increasingly been commissioning art through this scheme.

The OPW
The OPW has one of the largest architectural practices in the country. It provides a full design and project management service for public sector building projects, a conservation management and advisory service, and independent advice to the Government. With a considerable capital construction in place the OPW has a long history in commissioning art under this scheme for buildings such as Gárda stations, military barracks, prisons, courthouses, etc.
www.opw.ie

The National Roads Authority
The Authority’s primary function under the Roads Act 1993 is ‘to secure the provision of a safe and efficient network of national roads’. Its utilisation of the Per Cent for Art Scheme is often carried out in collaboration with Local Authorities. The NRA’s remit has been in general for permanent sculpture. www.nra.ie

Regeneration programmes which include both public and private funding such as Breaking Ground, Ballymun have been able to establish a considered and well funded programmatic approach – www.breakingground.ie. Other regeneration projects such as the Dublin Docklands Development Authority fund public art programmes through its own resources.  www.dublindocklands.ie

-Application for Per Cent for Art Funding
The scheme is not mandatory and application for funding is made on an individual basis for each capital development by the project manager or chief administrator of the building programme, e.g. the architect, engineer, housing officer, librarian or school principle. All government bodies with capital budgets are eligible to apply. Application is made when submitting a building scheme for funding to the parent department.

-Pooling of funds
Pooling of funding is permitted so that budgets available for two or more schemes can be combined to create a larger budget for a commission. In the case of specific local authorities and regeneration schemes with potential for considerable Per Cent for Art funding, asystematic application for funding has been put in place and pooling of funds has enabled greater flexibility, supporting curatorial or programmatic approach to commissioning. Local authorities and the NRA (The National Roads Authorities) have also teamed up to support commissions across neighbouring county boundaries and create a more substantial budget for specific commissions.

-Public Art Specialists
The appointment of expert public art specialists in a number of local authorities has demonstrated a real commitment to public art commissioning and supports more comprehensive and focused programmes. It has enabled a consideration of a public art policy and the integration of mediation, evaluation, critical reflection and curatorial dimensions to support practice, artists and the processes. Designated specialists provide solid support to artists through the commissioning process.

-Public Art Advisory Groups
The appointment of a public art advisory group offers another level of guidance and responsibility. Advisory groups are generally small, consisting of between seven and nine people. They usually include external artistic advisors alongside internal representative from the commissioning organisation.  A typical makeup of a Public Art Advisory Groups might include one or two artists, one curator, an arts officer, a public arts officer, senior management and representation from the architects, librarians, planners, engineers, councillors etc.  An advisory group can be established to give support to the management of a single project or it might be established to lead or oversee a comprehensive programme.

-Curatorial Advice and Project Management.
In the case where there is no public art specialist or arts officer to manage the commissioning process, independent curatorial or artistic expertise engages a professional approach to project managing commissions. Appointment of such expertise can be through a tender or a direct appointment. Advice on procurement of curators and expert project managers can be sought through the Arts Council and artists resource agencies.

-The National Guidelines for the Per Cent for Art Scheme.
These guidelines aim to set out basic operational procedures for government departments, public bodies and local authorities who are implementing the scheme. They offer baseline advice for the commissioning of art in the contexts of capital construction projects and set out important guiding principles in the process such as the need for time to support dialogue between the three core partners in a public art commission – the artist, the commissioner and the public.

The development and publication of the guidelines by the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism is seen as a step towards the development of a national approach to public art for Ireland.

The guidelines where launched in 2004. They are currently under review and are available at: www.publicart.ie


Who Funds Public Art? – Other Funders
In addition to the Per Cent for Art Scheme, public art is funded through a number of schemes and funding programmes including: –

-The Arts Council funding programmes
-Local authority curated programmes and funding programmes
-Culture Ireland
-Artists and Independent commissioners
-Independent commissioners and collectives
-Public Private Partnerships
-Private


-The Arts Council
As the Irish Government’s development agency for the arts, the Arts Council is the major funder of the arts in Ireland. Arts organisations, artists and groups working with the arts can apply for financial support. Relevant funding programmes for artists and groups include: Commissions, Bursaries, Projects, New Work. Such schemes are awarded through a competitive process where the standard is high and where individual practice can demonstrate a track record and or potential. The Arts Council does not act as a commissioning agent but rather funds, through an award system, individual artists and independent commissioners.  www.artscouncil.ie

-Local Authority Programmes
There are 34 local authorities in Ireland. Individual local authorities fund programmes of new work that have a public art focus. Such programmes prioritise the artist and his / her ambitions for a specific context and are generally less constrained by other agendas. Such programmes include Visualise Carlow – a curated programme of new work;  Art@Work, Roscommon, where artists make proposals to work within a workplace or industry in the county; Off-site Concourse, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown; Laois Sculpture Symposium.

For a list of county arts officers see the Practical Listings section of the Info~Pool.

-Culture Ireland
Culture Ireland is the Irish State Agency that promotes the best of Ireland’s arts and culture internationally and assists in the development of Ireland’s international cultural relations. Culture Ireland’s principal funding scheme is designed to support the presentation and promotion of Irish arts internationally. There are four funding rounds each year – www.cultureireland.gov.ie

Artists and Independent Commissioners
Artists have always been self-motivated and self starters. This entrepreneurial attitude is witnessed by their establishment of project spaces, collectives and small galleries and more recently curating projects – both in galleries and in the public domain. Public art projects initiated by artists might seek funding through local sources or through Arts Council funding programmes. Projects, as they develop, can gain momentum and be attractive for partnership funding. Artists might be seeking non-financial assistance or support-in-kind such as the use of a public space or building or promotional support or endorsement – the local authority can be helpful here. Where artists initiate such projects, they will retain control of the process, act as commissioners or collaborators and should be prepared to undertake management and curation of the project, forming links, finding sources of funding and good sources of support.

Independent commissioners and collectives
There are no public art agencies or organisations in Ireland such as Artangel, Locus+ or Situations, UK, however, recently there has been the emergence of an independent sector of individual curators and small artists-led organisations dedicated to research and practice within this field.

-Public Private Partnerships
Public-private partnership (PPP) describes a government service or private business venture, which is funded and operated through a partnership of government and one or more private sector companies. These schemes are sometimes referred to as PPP. As many of these schemes involve investment in public infrastructure and development, they may be eligible for percent for art funding. www.ppp.gov.ie

-Private
Private developers and businesses have invested their own resources in works of art for new buildings, development and urban programmes. Some local authorities have instigated development levies that contribute funds back into a local culture and arts fund which have at times been used for public art programmes.


Commissioning – The Process
Elsewhere in the Info~Pool Annette Moloney has prepared a complimentary text entitled ‘Undertaking Commissions’. It provides an introduction and overview of the opportunities and challenges that are presented to artists who choose to pursue the undertaking of commissions as part of their practice. 

Undertaking a public art commission involves a commitment from both artist and commissioner and a good relationship between both parties is central to a good process.

For the commissioner the process can include: securing of funding; defining a focus for commissions; considering concepts; writing the artist’s brief; overseeing the selection process; appointment of artist(s); drawing up contracts; management of the process; documentation and evaluation.

For artists the process may involve: developing a proposal; preliminary research and development; engagement with the context; making work; management of schedule; budgets; organisation of others; documentation and evaluation.

In commissioning public art, the artist generally conceives the artwork taking into consideration the context and public(s) for which the work is intended and the criteria sought as articulated through the Artists’ Brief.  A public artwork for a hospital is likely to have different criteria and scope than that for an airport, military barracks, library, roadway, or public artwork commissioned through a festival or arts event.

Commissioners of public art can consider a number of approaches and outcomes – from permanent artworks to more open and process-based responses in any medium or form that might be developed through a period of research, exchange or through a residency. While it is important to have clarity around what is being sought, it is also advisable not to narrow down options that support artistic ambition and contemporary practice.

Commissioning – Finding Artists
Finding an artist(s) can involve an open submission competition, a limited competition or a direct commission. It can also include purchasing existing work from an artist. A call for artists should be placed with artists’ resource organisation to ensure reaching the sector.

Open Submission Competition:
An ‘Open Submission Competition’ usually involves a two-stage competitive process, whereby an initial call for artists asks for a minimum of information – CV, examples of past works, sketch idea / proposal with an outline budget. In some cases, stage one will only look for an artists’ CV and samples of past work. A shortlisting process invites a select number of artists to develop their ideas further. Sometimes an interview process is part of stage two.

Artists should be paid a fee for stage two development of ideas. It is important to advertise well and widely through resource agency websites, e-bulletins and select art journals and newspapers.

Limited Competition:
Limited competition invites a shortlist of artists to submit a proposal for a competitive process. In general limited competitions are undertaken in one stage. Artists should be paid a fee for developing proposals. Limited competition sometimes ensures that artists who might not normally apply, might make a proposal.  It is highly recommended to include curatorial expertise in generating a shortlist of artists.

Direct Commission:
An artist is awarded a commission. There is no competitive process. It is highly recommended that commissioners employ curatorial expertise to advise or give feedback on the choice of artist. In general, but not necessarily, direct commissions are offered when the budget is small. In ‘direct commissions’ it is recommended that artists receive a fee to develop ideas and have time for research before agreeing a contract.

The Commissioning Process – Responding to a Commission
In responding to a commission artists should ask, ‘Is this for me’?, ‘whose agenda is to the fore?’, ‘ what are my responsibilities – is it to the place, the context, the client, the audience, my practice?’. It is useful to consider how this commission might suit the development of your own practice and what is of interest to you as an artist here. Does the commission allow you to take a risk, try something new, or build on a body of work? Is it a good time for you? Are you ready for this? It is often tempting to apply because there is money on offer, but do not comprise your artistic practice when making a proposal.

Many public art commissions require a context specific element – producing work that could happen anywhere or any time has generally less chance of being selected. The key is to find some kind of relationship between your practice and the context, nature of place, its identity(s), geographic or social aspects, etc. That said, it can be misleading to suggest some sort of tick list formulaic approach for responding to a commission. Many good artworks are capable of transcending the specifics of a context and can resonate and connect in many different situations or contexts outside of the originating site of the commission or terms of the brief.

The Commissioning Process – Developing a Proposal
In developing a proposal give yourself time to think, write and prepare. Consider how you work best. What is of interest to you and how can your practice intersect with this commission? Can you commit?

In preparing proposals, visualising the process and the end result is always helpful – even if it is impossible to be prepared for all the challenges that lie ahead or obstacles that may arise, or openings that will support greater ambition.

What are the challenging aspects of your ideas? Is it in relation to the materials you will be using, or is it to do with the organisation and interaction with a community or group of people, or is it in relation to ethical issues and concerns. To help prepare, might it be possible to have a site visit or spend time in the place, ‘tuning in’ before developing and confirming proposals?  What is interesting to you about this commission or what hooks might you use to develop ideas? Questions like, how will you manage the budget and is the budget sufficient for your ambitions are useful to keep in mind – as in most cases budgets are fixed and non-negotiable. It is worth finding out what on-the-ground supports might be available?  How open-minded are the commissioners?

The Commissioning Process – Research and Development
Sometimes an idea strikes quickly, other times ideas come through a process of consideration and reflection. See if it is possible to build a period of research and development into the commission before confirming an approach or idea. Is it possible to give an indication of intent, a sketch of ideas and to develop a final proposal out of these initial responses? What projects or works by other artists inspire your approach and practice – how might you draw on these? Are aspects of the commission of interest while other elements seem daunting and off-putting? Might there be scope for a collaboration – to work with another artist, a specific group of people, employ a mentor, a mediator or bring in other expertise different to yours?

The Commissioning Process – Artists’ Brief
The artists’ brief is a written document that should provide all relevant information on the commission. Content generally includes the following:

  • The context – site, architectural context, geographic or social dimensions and the commissioning organisations’ ethos and values.
  • The brief  – nature of artwork; the emphasis of the commission; the budget; project management; time frame; point of contact.
  • The selection process – adjudication process; selection criteria and the names or just profession of those on the selection panel.
  • Submission – closing dates, address and contacts.
  • Contact names: for addressing queries
  • Appendices – maps, drawings, photographs and other useful material for artists. In some cases these might be included in the body of the brief.


Types of Briefs
There are many different kinds of artist briefs. The brief should be written to suit and address the focus of the specific commission keeping in mind a responsibility to support contemporary artistic ambition. A brief might be tightly focused and seek a specific response, e.g. a site-specific permanent sculpture or memorial landmark or it might seek an artwork in a specific medium, e.g. in sound, digital media or film. Or it might place a greater emphasis on community engagement and process-based interaction rather than on a finished product.

Other briefs allow for a more open response, giving greater scope for artists to respond in ways that are of interest to their practice. A brief may also be tied into an overall curatorial framework where a conceptual or philosophical framework is offered for consideration. In some instances artists have been invited to write their own brief. In general, and if it is possible it is good to issue a brief that gives scope and does not limit artistic ambition. The best quality artworks and projects are most likely to be achieved by artists who do not have to comprise their artistic ambition and practice.

Writing a Brief
In writing an artists’ brief it is important to be clear and not misleading. Background information might include a piece of writing about the context, but overt referencing may read as limiting – e.g. an emphasis on historical or archaeological aspects may be off-putting for contemporary artists. It can be helpful to get an artist, curator, writer or someone familiar with the nuances of the particular commission to assist or advise in writing the brief. Making the brief interesting and attractive to artists is likely to drum up a wider interest, as it is the first point of contact for artists. Consider what you are asking from artists, can your brief allow for scope and a range of responses, can your brief support artistic ambition? What sort of additional supports can you give and how committed will you be as commissioner to the process. The brief should include visual information as relevant and be helpful to artists’ responses.

Interpreting a Brief
The focus of a brief and the context are generally the most important issue for artists when interpreting a brief. Context asks questions of how you address the commission, define a concept and make a proposal. The focus of the brief will outline its scope and limitations and gives you an opportunity to decide if this commission is appropriate to your practice.

In considering the commission you might undertake a site visit, get familiar with the context. You might do further desk research through the Internet, books and related articles. You might look at and review other artists practice and the processes they undertook. The key is to find a connection between the context and your artistic practice. It is possible  to  find ways of responding to a more traditional or ‘tight’ brief – if the particular commission is of interest. Decisions will depend on the selection panel who may or may not be open to your particular response, but there are a number of examples where artists have been successful in proposing a project outside the scope of the original brief. If you are thinking of proposing something outside of the expressed scope of the brief, it is important to have solid information and possible sources of support in place. This can impress the commissioners and allow them to consider your proposal, even though it is outside of their initial intentions.

The Commissioning Process – Selection

Selection Panels
In a competitive process, the selection process involves the appointment of a selection panel. This is usually made up of a small group of people. Panels usually consist of an uneven number of people.  The panel meets to consider the merits of each proposal submitted and to make a recommendation for selection. This group of people is important and it is recommended to have a good proportion of artistic expertise on board. Expertise can include artistic peers, curators, public art specialists, and practitioners in the field of practice of the particular commission – e.g. an artist(s) who has worked in sound for the selection of a sound works. It is essential to have at least one independent professional artists on the panel alongside other artistic expertise – curators, critical thinkers, etc. Others on the panel might include members from the project team – architect, librarian, engineer, member(s) from a particular community, local arts expertise – arts officer or public arts specialist. It is recommended that the majority of those on the panel have art expertise.


Selection Criteria
Selection criteria should be listed by which decisions will be reached. Criteria for selection might include the following: artistic ambition and quality of ideas; inventiveness; appropriateness to context; ability to connect; technical feasibility; artists track record or potential; ability to deliver in budget and on time. Selection criteria should tie in with the purpose and focus of the commission and aim for high quality artistic ambition.

Submissions – Making a Proposal
Elsewhere in the Info~Pool Annette Moloney has prepared a complimentary text entitled ‘Undertaking Commissions‘. It provides an introduction and overview of the opportunities and challenges that are presented to artists who choose to pursue the undertaking of commissions as part of their practice.

Proposals might include some or all of the following depending on what you are asked to provide:

  • Artists statement
  • Visual material
  • Proposal of written concept with visualisation of ideas
  • Budget breakdown
  • Time Frame
  • Technical issues with drawings relating to structural, maintenance, fabrication, health and safety, etc
  • Up-to-date curriculum vitae

Clearly label all elements of your proposal and ensure you have included page numbers on all documents. Submit what you are asked for. Do not submit too little or do not overload your submission.

Submissions – Curriculum Vitae
A curriculum vitae is composed over time. Keep design and layout simple, clear and easy to read. Black ink and simple font is preferable. Present information relevant to what you are applying for. Some artists keep a master CV and adapt it to suit different applications. A concise CV of two pages is generally good. This means deleting older or less relevant material. Look at sample CV’s online or elsewhere to get ideas for layout.

The following is a sample CV layout…

  • Contacts: Name, address, and contact details including e-mail and phone.
  • Education: Third level, post-graduate degrees, diplomas and qualification. Other relevant qualifications.
  • Solo Exhibitions: (list from most recent working back)  Date, Title, Venue, (curated by, if appropriate)
  • Group Exhibitions: (list from most recent working back)  Date, Title, venue, (curated by).
  • Commissions: including public art: date, title, location commissioner.
  • Residencies: date, location, duration
  • Awards: date, award name, awarding body
  • Curated projects: project administration
  • Publications: Catalogues and publications in which you have been featured: name of publication, title of article, reviewer, date.
  • Collections: name / titles of persons / organisations who have purchased or house your work as part of their collection

Submissions – Artists’ Statements
An artist’s statement is usually about a specific body of work , your practice over a period of time, or it can track your career to date. Ideally it offers an insight into the concepts, processes, influences and main sphere of your work. It can run for 500 words or be tightly edited to 70 words. It should be clear and informative about the conceptual elements of your practice. The artist’s statement is an important entry point into your practice and you should give it time, be honest and explain big concepts. A different artist’s statement can be written or adapted for different situations and applications.

An Artist’s Statement might include:

  • Philosophical, sociological or theoretical tenets of your work
  • Medium – the process and techniques you use
  • How the work is produced, the processes of realisation, which can include collaboration
  • Specific methodologies or contexts
  • Reference to time
  • Interesting linkages, research and sites of inspiration

Submissions – Your Proposal
The following is a checklist of headings you might wish to consider when writing a proposal. Some or all of these might be useful depending on your proposal and the intentions for your work.

  • Title
  • Description – about your proposal, concepts and thoughts, research methodologies, a short account of your ambitions.
  • Context – the context for the work – its geographical, social, physical, dimensions. This could also be for a virtual work on the web or be multi-sited.
  • Research and development – methodologies for research, how you envisage developing a proposal.  Further research or time required.
  • People – others who may be involved with you in the realisation of your proposal.
  • Audience and public – consider who your proposal is intended for – the general public or a specific or more intimate audience.
  • Costs – see section on finance and budgets.
  • Materials and medium
  • Location – the place or site
  • Networks – networks or partnerships envisaged and how you might develop these
  • Mediation – a conduit between the artist and work and the context and audience.
  • Documentation
  • Evaluation
  • Maintenance
  • Technical issues
  • Time frame
  • Visuals – which might be interspersed through your proposal or be contained in a separate document or be in digital format – CD and DVD.

Writing and Language
Read the application carefully and give yourself time to prepare a proposal. Structure your proposal based on what is required. Write clearly, intelligently or simply in a way that communicates your ideas quickly. The opening statement and paragraph is important. Generally it is good to keep sentences and paragraphs short. You can write in a way that creatively expresses your ideas and resonates with concepts but remember who will be reading it and make sure it is comprehensible. Try not to be boring or dense. Footnotes can help greatly to give a flow to your text and also gives space for explaining complex ideas or words. Do not be afraid to use simple language. You can write in a style that uses ‘art language’ but avoid being obtuse and do not inflate your own importance. Don’t be afraid, personality can come through, so can humour and mystery but this is best in a way that is not self-conscious. Always get someone (preferably a peer) to read and look through your proposal. Remember writing is a process – ideas come through this process. Clarity emerges when you write and structure your thoughts. Always leave time for editing and fine-tuning. 

Submissions – Visual Material
Visual material is a basic requirement and it is critical and likely to be the most important part of your proposal.  Visual material will include samples of previous work and visualization of your proposal.

Previous work.
Make a selection of your best work and images. Six to ten images of work or projects is likely to be sufficient. Make sure that this includes some of your most recent work. Label images clearly and/or provide a text document giving further information – title, date, short description of context and content.  Submission requirements might specify how material should be received -e.g. photographic print or on CD or slide.  But usually you have the option to choose the best way to present your material. You can use software or other publishers’ programmes to combine text and visuals. Video clips should be circa 1 minute with a second copy of complete work (full duration) enclosed. A selection of printed material – catalogues, posters, booklets, programmes and reviews provide another level of back up material and again should be carefully selected and limited. References to websites can be given but don’t expect assessors to look them up.

Visualisation of your proposal
The visualisation of your proposal can win you a commission. Unless otherwise stated, it can be in any form to suit your proposal and practice and you should have scope to be both creative and clear here. Your proposal might include sketches, overlays, drawings, notes, photoshoped images, maquettes, CD, DVD etc

Consider binding or putting material into a folder to support its flow and also to hold all together. Label all material and use text to further articulate.

Submissions – Technical Information
Technical details should provide sufficient and detailed information to reassure the commissioner and selectors that you can make and present the proposed artwork and that it will last with a minimum of maintenance for the required time-scale. As relevant, it is good to address the following with a clear written explanation:

  • Visualisation technical drawings
  • Sample material
  • Performance of materials, durability
  • Maintenance required
  • Professional statements to back up what you have addressed.

Certain objects will require a specialist report – for example an engineer’s report, advice or further statement.

Submissions –Environmental Impact Study
In the case of major landmark sculptures, an environmental impact study may be required. An environmental impact study (EIS) is the detailed study of the potential effects of a designated development on the local environment. Environmental impact studies should assess the existing site and conditions and evaluate the anticipated impacts on the flora, fauna, economy, historical and social factors of the new development. An EIS is important to avoid damage to a local area in terms of its ecology, air and water quality and to ensure long-term sustainable, minimal impact development – www.irishstatutebook.ie

Submissions – Common Mistakes in Making a Proposal

  • Not completing all aspects of the required submission process
  • Not submitting the proposal on time
  • Exceeding the defined budget (see section on finance)
  • Proposing an idea you are not ready for or your heart is not in.
  • Submitting a weakly presented proposal, poor visuals, scrappy materials, confused writing.

Finance – Budget Breakdown
Elsewhere in the Info~Pool Annette Clancy has prepared a complimentary text entitled ‘The Science and Art of Pricing and Costing Your Work‘. It provides practical advice to artists on how to calculate and cost the labour, time and overheads of their creative practice as well as guidance on how to price completed works and other artistic activity.

Budget breakdown for public art commissions can involve the following:

  • Artists Fees
  • Other professional fees
  • Material, equipment and production costs
  • Transport and installation costs
  • Presentation costs
  • Administration
  • Insurances
  • Contingencies
  • VAT
  • Documentation

When making a proposal make sure you stay within the commissioning budget, unless you have proven funding from other sources.

Finance – Artist and Professional Fees

Artists’ Fees:
The issues of artists’ fees is a tricky one and so it is difficult to provide any concrete guidance. Fees are generally not separated out from the total project budget and so artists have to to estimate their own fee based on overall costs.

One recommendation puts artists fees between 20 – 25% of the total budget. However, in reality the artists fee often gets eaten up by the production costs and in some cases artists have come away with no fee or very little. This is unfair – artists should ensure that they are paid properly for undertaking the project.

Another difficulty in estimating fees is that different projects by their nature require different fee structures, for example, a project where the artist gives a lot of their time through research or process-based engagement may require more of the artists’ time and smaller production costs so a more substantial artists’ fee should be supported.

In a few instances the commissioner separates the artists’ fee from the production and other costs.

Other Professional Fees:
The payment of others – subcontracted experts required in the production and realisation of the project/work (for example engineers, architects, artists etc)

Material, equipment and production costs
Transport and Installation costs
In some cases installation might be covered by the commissioning body – generally this is the case if the artwork is aligned to the building programme and the contractors are on site. However, this is not always guaranteed and should be costed.

Finance – Insurance
Increasingly you will be asked to supply Public Liability Insurances and Employers Liability Insurance. It is also advisable to take out Personal Accident Insurance.

  • Personal insurance
  • Public Liability Insurance to Euro 6.3 million with an indemnity to principal extension.
  • Employers Liability to Euro 13 million with an indemnity to principal extension (where others are employed by the artist .
  • Equipment – laptop, cameras, tools, etc.

Visual Artists Ireland can recommend the insurance company O’Driscoll O’Neil to artists. It offers a range of insurance packages and covers to visual artists.

Finance – Contingency
Always include contingency in your budget. A recommendation is for 2-5%. This is to support unforeseen items and also give some flexibility in the case of inflation or costs increases. Sometimes costs are not calculated / or estimated properly which can lead to the ms-management of budgets. Budgets can be correct at time of submission, but costs and expenses can easily increase over time especially if there are unforeseen delays.

Be aware though that contingency will not necessarily be able to cover these increases and further negotiation with a commissioner may be required. In addition, contingency should be discussed and addressed in the contract.

However, experience suggests that the commissioner will rarely and most likely will never have any latitude to negotiate.

Finance – Documentation
Depending on the budget available this might include a full-scale catalogue of artists work with essays and images; printed material and publications; DVD recording of work or CD;  photographic documentation and evaluation analysis.

Finance – VAT & TAX
Elsewhere in the Info~Pool, Gaby Smyth and Co. Accountants have prepared texts on ‘VAT and Artists’ and ‘Tax and Self-Employment for Artists’. Here you will find a simple guide to VAT, general rules and administration and info on Tax, PRSI and Social Insurance benefits for self-employed artists.

Artists based in Northern Ireland should refer to the texts by Flannigan Edmonds Bannon, Chartered Accountants. Here you will find A simple guide to VAT, general rules and administration and information on Tax, PRSI and social Insurance benefits for self-employed artists based in Northern Ireland.

Tax Clearance Certificate
Where a company / person provides goods or services to the public sector, there is usually documentation – a Tax Clearance Cert – required by the public or local authority.  You will be asked to supply this tax clearance certificate. This is a simple document which you can get from Revenue (Ireland) or the HM Revenue & Customs (Northern Ireland) which declares that your tax affairs are in order.

Managing the Process
The client/commissioner-artist relationship is fundamental to a good process. Understanding of the other in a supportive environment makes for a good process. Getting a sense of the commissioner and the context of the commission is useful – how much flexibility is possible on both sides can be quickly assessed. If you encounter problems or obstacles don’t let them fester. It is important to bring them up as soon as they occur. The commissioner may be extremely helpful and supportive here and find other solutions and / or have access to all sorts of resources or people that can help.

Schedule regular meetings at appropriate times throughout the process and stay in touch. Recognise that the commissioner may have other work and will not be able to devote themselves full time to your project. Be self-sufficient as much as possible and within expectation – but know when and how to ask for support or request time to focus on research, making and production. Keep a check on budgets throughout.  Keep a check on time frames throughout. Set out a work plan and, in more formal situations, agree a schedule of meetings.

Managing the Process – Work Plan / Time Frame
The work plan assists in setting out the various stages of a project from development to realisation.

Permanent Artwork

  • Phase 1: Developing ideas, background research, contacts and connections
  • Phase 2: Finalising the details and specification.
  • Phase 3: Making the artwork.
  • Phase  4: Transport and Installation
  • Phase 5: Further site works you may have a role in – for example, lighting, paving, etc.
  • Phase 6: Post commission – documentation, evaluation, etc.  These might be done throughout the process.

Process or Time-Based Work

  • Phase 1: Developing ideas, background research, structuring of ideas, contacts and connection
  • Phase 2: Setting out phases of the process
  • Phase 3: Manifestation / making of work
  • Phase 4: Promotional aspects – or catalogues
  • Phase 5: Preparation for presentation
  • Phase 6: Presentation of work / event
  • Phase 7: Post commission – documentation, evaluation,  etc.  These might be done throughout process.

Legalities – Contracts
Elsewhere in the Info~Pool solicitor Linda Scales has prepared a complimentary text entitled ‘Contracts for Artists’. Scales explains the legalities of contracts and how they work. She also provides sample contracts for use when undertaking a commission, exhibiting with a gallery or reproducing an artwork.

A contract is a legal agreement between the artist and the commissioner. It is there to give protection to both parties and sets out the terms and conditions for the commission. The artist should be happy with all items of the contract before signing any agreement.

The contract will generally confirm/agree timeframe for the project and deadlines for realisation and budgets and payment schedules. It will specify what the artist has agreed to undertake, make / give and their responsibilities. It should also specify what the commissioner can expect to receive. It should address issues of ownership and copyright, health and safety agreements and insurances. The contract might also require the artist to provide specific information e.g. a maintenance schedule and address responsibilities in the case of repair, damage and neglect.

Legalities – Copyright
Elsewhere in the Info~Pool solicitor Linda Scales has prepared a complimentary text entitled ‘Copyright and the Visual Artist’. It presents an overview of copyright and how it works and advises artists on how to protect their copyright and what steps to take if copyright is infringed.

Below is a summary of key elements of Linda Scale’s text on ‘Copyright and the Visual Artist’.

Copyright gives protection and rights for reproduction.  Copyright ownership legally prevents any third party from:

  • Making any reproduction of the work
  • Making the work available to the public throughout any means including publishing, posting on the internet, rental and lending
  • Making an adaptation of the work e.g., a translation

All forms and media are eligible for copyright as long as they are deemed original. Appropriation, sampling, and sourcing from existing work broadens our views and interpretation of originality and while there is no fixed definition of original it usually means a fair degree of labour, judgement and skill and not copied from another source. Ideas and principles underlying a piece of work are not protected, for example, Christo does not have copyright on wrapping.

Copyright arises spontaneously on the creation of a work there is no registration required.


Things you can do to protect your copyright:

  • Reflect all agreements in writing
  • Use the copyright symbol after your name
  • In case of commissions shared copyright can be sought
  • Keep a good record of your work (photographic and documentary) evidence

Commissions and Ownership
Misunderstandings as to ownership can arise when a work is commissioned. Commissioners often assume because they paid for the work they own the copyright. This is not the case.  The copyright remains with the artist unless it is assigned to the commissioner in a written agreement. The commissioner has the right to use the work for which it is commissioned.

For further information contact Irish Visual Artists Rights Organisation (IVARO).


Copyright in Contracts:
Contracts for commissions should consider ownership of the work. The commissioner who pays for the work usually has ownership of the work with the copyright remaining with the artist.

In the case of multiple copies such as a photographic series and recordings an agreement should confirm what the commissioner can assume ownership of – e.g. one set of photographic prints. The contract should make clear that work incidental to the commission e.g. notes, writings, sketches and drawing and other works relating to the process remains with the artist unless otherwise agreed with the commissioner as part of the contract.

Post Project – Maintenance
Maintenance of the work should be thought out in advance. Some artists provide a maintenance manual. This might be as simple as ‘clean only with a feather duster’ or info re the specific paint colour and type or cleaning method for removing graffiti.

The commissioner now owns the work (but not the copyright) and has responsibility for maintenance and repairs. Commissioners are advised to create a separate budget for maintenance, repairs and upkeep. Commissioners should contact the artist before making any major repairs or carrying out conservation work. If the artist is deceased, specialist advice can be sought to ensure the use of correct materials etc.

Post Project – Decommissioning
Decommissioning has increasingly become an issue for commissioners. Decommissioning is a formal process for the removal of an artwork / project from the public domain.

The decommissioning process should be handled with sensitivity and respect for the artist and the work.The artist should always be contacted prior to removal of work. Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council has issued decommissioning guidelines – here a work of art cannot be decommissioned on the basis of subjectivity or taste.  A work can only be decommissioned if it is beyond repair or maintenance, or repair works are prohibitive or if the work is a Health and Safety hazard.

Decommissioning should be addressed in the artist / commissioner contract.

Post Project – Documentation
Documentation is extremely valuable to an artist and is the currency with which you will be able to promote your practice further. It is an important record of the work and process, and it is often required by the commissioner. Documentation can include photographs, analysis and evaluation text of the process and finished work. It might be published in a catalogue with critical or reflective essays or commentary. It might also work well as a video work and downloadable from a website.

Post Project – Evaluation
Commissioners often seek evaluation. Sometimes evaluation forms an integral part of the process and is set up at the beginning with an expert evaluator on board who is funded out of separate money. This is the best approach.

Other times evaluation might include a written report of the process and work, written by artist or project curator; copies of reviews and press releases; comment books and statements; peer feedback; critical texts; images of the work and the work in process can all be used in an evaluation report.

Often, artists and commissioners have a good sense of what worked and what didn’t. Evaluation is helpful to both artist and commissioners as it provides time to reflect on the project and process and learn for future situations.

Post Project – What Can Go Wrong?
Elsewhere in the Info~Pool solicitor Linda Scales has prepared a complimentary text entitled ‘Handling Disputes’ which provides advice to artists on how to avoid professional disputes and manage those that do occur.

Often it is the small, unforeseen things that can trip us up, or things outside of your control. Sometimes when things seem to go wrong, you are steered to deal with them in other new ways which can ultimately become a positive experience. It is good advice is to stay with things and persevere until there is no solution. Common problems include:

  • Finance going over budget.
  • Technical challenges – not tested or that arise in the making of work.
  • Relationships
  • Time Frame
  • Disputes over Ownership of work
  • Censorship – sensitivity to content of work, titles or out of bounds areas where artists want to go.
  • Copyright and Ownership
  • Collaborations – not really seeing eye to eye or someone letting you down.
  • The unexpected

Things to Know
You are not on your own. Peers, artists and resource agencies have a lot of combined knowledge. Your problem is likely to have occurred elsewhere so don’t be afraid to ask and consult with others.

Don’t be afraid to push agendas. Know when to stand firm and when to give in and comprise. Have a sense of humour. Recognise that everything; even a bad situation is experienced gained.

By Cliodhna Shaffrey and Ruairí Ó Cuív