Comissioning Guidelines

This page identifies the resources the Association recommends to assist in the professional management of sculpture commissions. The information herein is chiefly concerned with public commissions, but is also a useful reference for anyone contemplating commissioning a work of art.

Background

The Guidelines for Successful Commissioning of Public Art were drawn up in 1998 following approaches from the Association of Sculptors of Victoria to the State Government. At the time, sculptors were concerned about exploitative “expression of interest” processes that had come into practice with the Compulsory Competitive Tendering system. These practices had resulted in problems such as:

    Lack of response to processes inviting artists to undertake work.
    Poor quality responses to invitations to undertake work.
    Artists being impoverished by expensive and time consuming applications in response to processes with very poor prospects of obtaining paid work.

The principles behind the Guidelines are still relevant although some of the contact details may be out of date. The Guidelines were also used as a reference in the drawing up of the National Association for the Visual Arts’ Code of Practice.

Principles

The Guidelines and the Code of Practice are the industry best practice models that will deliver the best result for both the artist and the body commissioning the sculpture. When commissions and the selection of artists for commissions are run on ethical business lines the result is that the client is more likely to obtain the sculpture that suits their needs (and is good value for the budget) and the artist will benefit from producing good work and being paid appropriately for it.

It is important to differentiate between a public competition leading to work and an expression of interest selection process to find a suitable sculptor for a commission. A public competition is more expensive to run from both the artists’ and the commissioners’ point of view - it will give a great range of ideas for the work but only if it is attractive enough to lure talented artists to compete: a large, conspicuous commission is required. If the expression of interest path is used then the best practice is to ask for written submissions - CV, a written proposal and images of previous, relevant work. Since EOI briefs are often inadequate, the brief needs to be further developed in consultation with the invited artist/s and a commissioning client needs to be aware of the investment in time and information that is necessary to brief any professional adequately. Specific sketches, ideas and concepts are generally considered to be the first stage of the work and need to be paid for.

Any process with a stated budget is not a tender. It is either a design competition or a selection process to find an appropriate sculptor to carry out a commission. It is not advisable to call for designs without a stated budget as sculptors will have no idea at what price level to pitch their proposals and many will be quite useless. Thus these processes should not be termed tenders.

A competition where particular sculptors are invited to submit designs is a competition by invitation and each sculptor should be offered a fee on the basis that each is being commissioned to produce a design even though others are similarly commissioned.

The idea of asking for ‘concept sketches’ in the belief that this does not take the sculptor long ignores the facts that getting the idea is the hardest part of the process and is the sculptor’s ‘stock in trade’. The roughest sketch has to be costed and its construction worked out so that the proposal can be made within the stated budget and schedule. Uncosted rough sketches are a recipe for projects to run over budget and time.

This means that the difference between a rough sketch and a finished presentation drawing is only the time that goes into the drawing. All other elements of costing, materials, time, subcontractors, transport, site works and placing are constants which must be worked out from the outset.

References

  1. Guidelines for Successful Commissioning of Public Art (Melbourne City Council and Arts Victoria, 1998)
  2. Code of Practice Edition 2 (National Association for the Visual Arts)