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10 Essential Considerations when Commissioning Public Art

As public art consultants, Artelier's curators are specialists in developing a strategy for successful public art projects and managing the public art commission process. Responding to our clients' key questions, our curators have put together the essential guide for commissioning public art – read more to learn key considerations for public art projects, and delve into what is the purpose of public art.

Public art refers to any artwork in the public realm, and is used for expressing and communicating key aspects of a place or community – be that through history, local culture, current topics in society or a project’s identity. For that reason, many public artworks are site specific, and respond to their locality in an intriguing and meaningful way.

A common question is: what is considered to be public art? Whilst many people associate public art with outdoor sculptures or murals, it can take many different forms. Public art can be indoors or outdoors, permanent or temporary. It can be created using a wide variety of materials, as well as more experimental mediums such as performance art or through the use digital technology. It can be commissioned by a government, local council, a public body, a charity, a corporation, or a developer. The public can encounter public art as observers, or be invited to be active participants.

Despite this great variety, every public art project has common considerations that need to be decided before embarking on the commissioning process. As public art consultants, Artelier's curators have put together an essential guide for what makes public art successful, ensuring it will remain engaging for years to come.

1. How public art strategy informs the choice of artist

When beginning a project, correctly selecting an artist and deciding on an appropriate type of artwork is paramount – to do this, it is key to have a clear strategy from the onset. To build a strategy, it is necessary to have a deep understanding of several aspects: the objectives of the commissioning body, the context of the project, and understanding the audience and how they will encounter the artwork. Assessing how these intersect can reveal a unique quality of the project to focus on, and provide a meaningful foundation for further research and development.

These considerations will naturally inform the choice of artist. For instance, the objectives of the commission may suggest a particular subject matter, the context may encourage the use of a local material, and exploring how an intended audience uses the site may reveal the most impactful location for the artwork. Considering these factors leads public art consultants to identify multiple artists who are able to respond to the commission in a relevant and exciting way. The public art consultant uses these considerations to set parameters, which act as a guide for the shortlisting process, and lead to the eventual selection of the strongest ideas for a public art proposal.

2. How much does public art cost?

The cost of public art can vary hugely, and depends largely on the location of the artwork and how high profile the selected artist is. If intended for an outdoor space, an artwork has to be more durable, resistant, and also requires more stringent health and safety measures – materials suited for outdoor contexts therefore tend to be more expensive. This becomes especially important if the artwork is permanent, rather than a temporary installation. It would be expected to pay in excess of £30k for more affordable modern materials such as steel or resin; for a more classic cast bronze sculpture, this would be over £100k for a quality timeless piece. These figures, however, rise exponentially if working with a blue chip artist, where payment also factors in the artist’s prestige and reputation.

3. Choosing between emerging & high profile artists

In many of our projects, Artelier champions talented emerging artists, and our curators are accustomed to talent spotting early-career work which shows exceptional artistic ability. The advantage of working with emerging artists is that they often bring a new, fresh perspective, and are available at a lower cost. Alongside this benefit of greater value for money, the public art commission has the opportunity to promote an up-and-coming artist, which can incorporated as a key aim of the project and become a point of interest for the public.

If an emerging artist is chosen under the guidance of an art consultant, there is no compromise on the quality of the commissioned artwork – not only can a public art consultant help clients discover artists who are capable of fulfilling an ambitious commission to a high standard, but they help support the artist in developing the piece and ensure it exceeds expectations.

For some public art projects, however, a high profile artist is a more appropriate choice. A high profile public art commission should be viewed as a long-term investment for the client. It can therefore be considered as an addition to a collection, and even moved for display in different locations. This approach can be especially well-suited for a development looking to raise its profile, since providing a platform for a well known artist can act as a draw for the public and become a marketing opportunity through their association.

4. Which materials to consider for permanent outdoor artworks

A permanent outdoor artwork needs to age well and remain in good condition for years to come. The chosen material needs to be easy to maintain, resilient and robust; some materials can even improve with time and weathering.

Materials such as bronze or patinated metals are a popular choice for this reason – with time outdoo