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How to Break into Public Art

Breaking into public art can feel like a daunting experience. It is a very different process, and practice, from studio and gallery-based work. There are specific considerations when developing and pitching a concept, fabricating the work, and then putting it out there in the public realm. Ask yourself: Does public art suit you as an artist? Does it suit you as a person? Are you happy to have positive and negative reactions, very publicity, about your work? What does public art mean to you? How and why do you want to engage with communities in which the work will exist? Once you’ve considered these questions and you can see your work translating into this genre, then it may be time to take the leap. It will definitely be challenging, but ultimately very rewarding to push your work into another realm.

First off, how do you even get considered for a project? Unless you are selected for a curatorially led commission, you will need to apply, apply, and apply for commissions which are advertised as open calls, or sometimes called EOIs - Expressions of Interest. You will get a significant number of knockbacks, be prepared for that, get used to that and don't let the knockbacks get you down, they are to be expected. With every application you will learn something new about your practice, yourself, the application processes, and you will develop a 'thicker skin' - which you will definitely need for working within the public art domain. This work is not suited to sensitive souls! Ask for feedback on your applications, it might not always be provided but when it is - take that feedback on - make this process empowering. In the process, reach out to the curators leading the project and start making connections and networking within this field. Sign up to arts newsletters for local council areas and follow art consultant's socials so that you are aware of call outs. Send your portfolio to public art consultants so that they are aware of your practice and can keep your portfolios on record. Talk to public art artists to find out what’s happening in the field.

Get really familiar with public art. Local Council areas usually have dedicated public art collection pages, public art map or similar – spend time getting to know what's out there. Acquaint yourself with materials, size, what works, what doesn’t, what will work for your artistic practice. Do online research on public art around the world. Look at what’s being commissioned within public space, hospitals, aviation, transport, and infrastructure projects etc. Keep this research at front of mind when thinking about how your work can adapt to each project.

Research artist fees and make sure you are paying yourself correctly. The amounts might sound big and alluring, but remember public art takes a long time to deliver and you will be required to put in a lot of hours over this time. Get familiar with budgets and project management.

You will also need to be open to working with a lot of different specialties and stakeholders. It takes teams of people collaborating to deliver public art - engineers, architects, landscape architects, fabricators, installation specialists etc, as well as the artist.

Research all the various certificates you are likely to need in order to work within a building site, white card, EWP training etc.

Always remember that public art is about the public, the community. Consider the community and the impact the work will have on the lives of people in that community when putting together a proposal. Think about how you are contemplating the space, audience, history, geography, geographic location, and cultural make of the people in the community with every project.

Finally public art commissioning takes a long, long time from months to years - persistence and patience are key. This is definitely a long game...


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