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How to Win Public Art Commissions

How to Win Public Art Commissions

Stephen B Whatley paints a view of St Katharine Docks, London. The artist undertook a commission of immense scale - a series of 30 paintings depicting the history of the tower. Image Courtesy of Stephen B Whatley, Flickr

Valerie Atkisson / ArtBistro

One lucrative way to make money as an artist is to win public commissions. Artists are commissioned for public art usually in connection with a new building or construction project. Most states have a law that mandates 1% of the total construction cost for a public building go to art for the building. Usually, state and city art groups have the latest information on what construction project is currently accepting applications. Sign up for their notification list and you will receive notices. Submissions for public work can be submitted by individuals or groups. You may want to collaborate with another artist who has done this before, a designer, or with an architect.

Site Specific or Artist Specific?

When coming up with art for public places, artists usually take one of two approaches. Some artists submit work for the space that is truly their own work. That same piece of work would be sold in a gallery. Other artists propose art that is created specifically for the space. It may have to do with the geography or purpose of the building. I have seen plenty of both kinds of work in public places. I am of the latter group; I like to make work for a specific space and purpose.

Elizabeth L. Kelley, Director, Public Art Program City of Chicago has this advice:

“For each project of the City of Chicago Public Art program and the CTA Arts In Transit program, we issue a request for proposal. Each project and RFP unique but in every case, the ‘best possible proposal’ is one in which the artist has followed the directions and project parameters set forth in the rfp – which often includes research and knowledge of the community or the facility for which the artwork is proposed. If an artist submits a proposal which has not taken the information of the rfp into proper consideration – this reflects poorly on the artist’s professionalism.

Artists are selected to participate in a public art competition as a result of their past or current bodies of artwork. For this reason, i would advise artists to contact the project administrator and inquire about the works from his/her portfolio that influenced the selection of the artist as a finalist – and to consider those works while developing the proposal. Secondly, a brief artist’s statement is a good one. Lastly, I would encourage artists to seize the opportunity to push the limits of their ideas and the funding allocated to a project. Safe and predictable ideas and forms do not make for provocative and enduring works of public art!"

Next: Research the Project Carefully →


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