Commissioning an Artist


Silversmith Séamus Gill showing work at his studio in The Design Tower

Silversmith Séamus Gill (right) showing work at his studio in The Design Tower

Business to Arts has been involved in commissioning an artist every year for nearly 20 years with the Dublin Airport Authority for our annual award ceremony. As a result, we often get asked for guidance on how to commission an award/artist. So, if you are thinking of commissioning, here are some helpful tips to make the process as easy as possible.

Develop Your Brief 
The best starting point is to identify what the commission is for. Your brief should communicate your ideas on paper and establish exactly what needs to be achieved by the final artwork. For example, the awards we have helped commission reflect ‘collaboration’ and ‘partnership’ or the relationship between two entities.

Your brief is a vital tool, which can be used as an on-going point of reference when discussing the commission with artists. It should address the following:

Who or what is the work for? Is it an award or gift for an individual or a company?

Are there any special requirements? Dimensions of the work, the location where the work be displayed, the function of the work, any materials that cannot be used?

Will it be a one-off piece or do you need multiples (ie for an award with different categories)

What is the budget? Does this include installation and/or delivery?

If it’s a gift or award, do you need special wrapping or packaging made?

When do you need it for – give yourself plenty of time as many artworks can be time-consuming to make!
Research Artists and Disciplines
You can find images of many of the awards commissioned by Dublin Airport Authority on flikr. These might be useful to help identify what media or materials you like and don’t like. If you would like more information about artists and crafts people in Ireland (including their discipline and price range) we find the ‘Find Craftspeople’ section of The Crafts Council of Ireland’s website useful.
Make contact with some artists and ask them to provide an initial design
Once you have a shortlist of artists that you like, you should make contact and arrange to meet with them, visit their studio or go see their work in a gallery. Discuss the commission with the artist and ask them to provide a sketch/design/maquette (scale model) of their response to the brief. Business to Arts holds the contact details of a wide variety of artists and galleries which might help.
Once you have decided the design you like, you will need to finalise the brief. Ensure you agree with the artist the materials the work is to be constructed from, the timescale and the cost. This should be contained in a document/agreement which should be signed by both parties. Both commissioner and artist should have a copy of the final brief to refer back to. Commissioning is made easier when the roles and responsibilities of the participants are formalised.
Reviewing progress 
A review is recommended to ensure both yourself and the artist are satisfied with the progress and direction of the commission. The number of meetings required will depend upon the size and scale of the commission.
Upon receipt/installation of the commission it is important you immediately examine the work carefully, as it may have incurred damage in transit. It can become complicated in proving damage after receipt if left for a period of time.It is worthwhile meeting or contacting the artist following completion so that you can exchange feedback on the success of the commission. Discussing the commission is of mutual benefit and could aid the progress and ease of future commissions for both yourself and the artist.

Some Other Helpful Information:

Medium to Large-Scale Commissions: we recommend that a solicitor draw up a legally binding contract. The artist may have a standard contract that they wish to use when agreeing a large commission. If you are unsure about any documentation, then consult a solicitor specialising in the laws related to the visual arts, and have a legally binding contract drawn up to protect both the commissioner and the artist.

Fees and Payment Structures: Purchasing materials can be very expensive for the artist. Normal practice is to pay one-third upon agreeing the commission, a second payment mid way through the process and the final payment on completion and delivery of the artwork.

Fabrication: Ensure the agreement clearly states who will pay for the materials and any other fabrication costs. In some cases part of the production will be handled by a third party, ensure you know what you are responsible for.

Delivery: who is responsible for the delivery of the artwork? Are there any special delivery requirements? Who is responsible for insuring the artwork whilst in transit? What are the costs and who pays for delivery?

Installation: If you are commissioning a large work it might require installing. If so, agree who will do this? Installation may be carried out by the artist and/or a technician. Discuss this with the artist in advance and agree any potential costs.

Timescale: Agree a timescale for the completion of the commission.

Maintenance: Ask the artist if the artwork will require any ongoing maintenance. If it does, what measures need to taken (if any) to ensure the artwork remains in good condition?

Ownership/Copyright: Under copyright laws, the artist possesses first ownership of a work of art they themselves have created. You need to agree in advance with the artist the ownership and copyright of the artwork, particularly if you are intending to use images of it in any way in corporate materials, on websites etc.

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