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Demystifying Public Art Briefs

This blog post aims to help break down, demystify, and conquer public art briefs.

Public art briefs are usually multi-page documents that are created by public art consultants/curators, in consultation with the design team which may include the design manager, architects, landscape architects, engineers etc.

Briefs should contain all the required information about the commission - project context, aims and objectives, budget, timelines, site specifics, curatorial guidelines etc. These documents go through various iterations with many contributors, and project departments, before the final version is finalised and made available for artist engagement.

It is important for artists who have been invited to develop a concept, to familiarise themselves with all aspects of the brief and be able to clearly demonstrate that their concept has taken into account all elements and considerations of the project.

The brief can look overwhelming at first glance, because there are so many parts to it, some of which may be quite technical, however if you look at it broken down into its various components and concentrate on each part separately you may find it more manageable.

Key elements to a brief

Project Background: This will have information about the wider project, context, setting and major stakeholders.

Site: Here you should find background information on the site/project location. Why they are developing the site, why they are commissioning an artwork. There may be maps, plans and elevations with dimensions so you can get a sense of the site and scale of the project.

About the Commission: Here you should find clear and transparent description of the proposed commissioning process, so either via expression of interest, limited competition, or direct invitation. It will detail how many artists will be shortlisted for concept stage and the fee each artist will receive to create a concept.

*NB artists should always be paid a fee to develop concepts. No fee - no concept, don't waste your time end energy on pursuing any creative opportunity that expects creative contribution without a fee.

Selection Panels/Steering Groups: Briefs should list the people, or organisations involved in the assessment process.

Curatorial themes: If applicable, sometimes there may be none.

Stakeholder and community consultation: Requirements and or aspirations.

Selection Criteria: Here the brief should have clear selection criteria that the artist’s concept will be scored against. It is important to make sure your concept and presentation covers each selection criteria. Don't ignore any parts of this.

Concept Design Presentations: In this section the brief should outline exactly what the commissioner and selection panel are expecting the artist to include in their concept submission and presentation. Again, don't ignore any part of this.

Timeline: The timeline is vital, so everyone is on the same page in terms of deliverables and deadlines. It is important for artists to ensure that they can comfortably work to these deadlines. If the artist cannot, they must be clear about this and withdraw from the process. The public art commission is often a small part of a much bigger project and so must be delivered within the wider project schedule.

Budget: As part of the concept delivery, the artist will be asked to provide a detailed budget. Get preliminary costings and make sure all subcontractors can produce the artwork they are proposing within the budget. It is common for the artist to partner with a suitable fabricator at this point, to estimate fabrication costs and develop a concept that can be delivered within the budget available. There should always be a reasonable contingency amount to cover any unforeseen or increased costs.

Cleaning & Maintenance: There should also be information relating to expectations or requirements relating to cleaning and maintenance. As part of the full delivery of public art, artists are required to provide detailed instructions on how to maintain and clean the artwork. It is important to have expert advice on this as maintenance is an important consideration for any commissioning body. The brief may specify the required life expectancy of the commission.

The project public art curator should be able to help you out with any part of a brief that seems unclear or confusing – so shout out if you need help!


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