How to Commission a Work

Commissioning a Work of Sculpture

“A sculptor’s work endures so long that it is next to a crime for him to neglect to do everything that lies in his power to execute a result that will not be a disgrace. There is something extraordinarily irritating, when it is not ludicrous, in a bad statue.”

— Augustus Saint-Gaudens, NSS Founding Member

The New York Times reported on May 31, 1893 that a group of sculptors, architects and laymen gathered If you are planning to commission a sculptor to create a public work or a work for a private space, the following brief overview should be helpful. to form the National Sculpture Society, whose objectives included: “To spread the knowledge of good sculpture...promote the decoration of public buildings, squares and parks with sculpture...” Today, NSS continues to encourage sculpture and commissioned works of the highest artistic standards by serving as a resource for artists, architects, and commissioning parties.

If you are planning to commission a sculptor to create a public work or a work for a private space, the following brief overview should be helpful.

FIRST, PLEASE CONSIDER THE FOLLOWING:

  • Is there a budget in place?
  • Is there a timeline in place?
  • Who is going to review the applications?
  • Is there a designated space for the work?

NEXT STEPS...

Have you answered in the affirmative to the questions above? If so - great! You are ready to find a sculptor that fulfills your criteria and vision. For public works, this is generally a more complicated endeavor that it is for private commissions. One process that has been used successfully in the past to commission a work of public sculpture is as follows:

  • Establish a committee to oversee the process and make the selection
  • Draft a request for proposal (RFP); this is a document that solicits a proposal
  • The committee identifies sculptors whose work is of interest (decide on a number)
  • Send the RFQ or RFP to the sculptors identified as prospects by the committee or circulate to a broader audience if you wish to expand your search.
  • Committee reviews proposals received
  • Committee selects 3 finalists
  • Each of the finalists creates a maquette, or model, of their proposal and is paid an honorarium for their work
  • Committee selects a winner
  • A contract is signed with the sculptor

You will need a long-range budget and initial funding to cover the RFP process and honoraria for the finalists. Every stage of the competition should be announced to the press, shared with your audience, and posted on your social media and website. The process itself should engage your constituents and generate public awareness and interest in the project. Likewise, the completion of the maquettes by the finalists provides an excellent opportunity to raise funds for your project.

FINDING THE ARTIST

There are two standard types of "Calls for Artists”. Calls may be open and broad, or narrowed by region, state, media, subject, experience, or other criteria.

Requests for Qualifications (RFQ)

An RFQ is commonly used when the commissioning body is interested in a larger pool of applicants for a project. Applicants are asked to submit qualifying materials only (resume, slides of past work, letter of interest, etc.) that a panel will use to determine suitability for the project. A specific proposal is not requested.

Most RFQ's use a tiered approach to selection. Based on the qualifying materials submitted, the pool of applicants is narrowed by a selection committee to 3 to 5 artists to move forward in the competition. Finalists may be asked to submit a more detailed proposal, perhaps asked to visit the site, and make a presentation. Artists who are finalists should be fairly compensated for their time and expertise in preparing a design proposal and any travel associated with a site visit and/or presentation.

Advantages:

  • Any eligible artist can compete through the quality of their previous work.
  • You may be introduced to artists and work that you could not find on your own.

Disadvantages:

  • Artist's qualifications are primarily judged on the visual materials submitted, not on a site-specific proposal for your project.
  • There is typically a larger applicant pool. Depending on the number of applicants, narrowing the field and the overall process can be time consuming.
Request for Proposals (RFP)

An RFP is used when a commissioning body wants an already qualified pool of applicants or when streamlining the process is desirable. Artists are asked to submit their qualification materials and a proposal for a specific site.

Advantages

  • The process is shorter
  • You will be judging the proposals on a design specific to your project, as well as the artists’ submitted body of works.

Disadvantages

  • A highly qualified artist may escape your focused search, and therefore would not be considered for the project.
  • You will be paying a stipend to 3-5 artists who reach the semi-final selection process for their design.

THE CONTRACT

Public commissions involve committees and several stages of approval processes. Most private commissions, on the other hand, are between an individual or corporate entity and the artist. In both cases, we strongly recommend that a contract is written and agreed on by the commissioning agent and the artist.

In drafting a contract, consider the responsibilities of both parties, the time frame, and the related costs. These include but are not limited to:

  • Deadline for initial design by sculptor
  • Date of first payment to sculptor
  • Amounts and dates of progress payments by commissioning agent to sculptor
  • Projected completion date of work
  • Who will be responsible for insurance, shipping, and installation?
  • Title and Ownership of work
  • Artist’s ownership of copyright
  • Owner’s responsibility to maintain the work
  • Protecting the work: non-destruction or alteration of the original work of sculpture
  • Termination clause

NATIONAL SCULPTURE SOCIETY (NSS) IS HERE TO HELP!

We have a tool designed specifically to help you find the most qualified sculptor for your project. You input the specific criteria for the sculptor and piece, and it will direct you to sculptors who meet your criteria. For example, are you looking for a sculptor who lives and works in Virginia? On the west coast? An animalier? Does it need to be someone who has done posthumous portraits before? Or a sculptor with experience in large commissioned works? Are you looking for a sculptor of a particular gender? Check the various criteria during your search and you will be provided with a list of Sculptors that are potentially perfect for your project.

Our staff is happy to answer questions you may have and provide you with more information. We can run a listing, or "Call to Artists" about your project in our news bulletin, which is sent out to sculptors across the country; we would ask that you to write up a brief description of the project. There is no charge for the listing.

We want the decision to be yours, but we are happy to facilitate the selection process and provide you with the tools to make an educated decision. The final work of sculpture should be one that you will be proud of, one that will enrich the national aesthetic and stand the test of time.

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