Public artworks, much like the raising of a child, takes a village to create.
Artist Janet Echelman describes construction of her fibre public art installations as a “team sport.”
Here are some of the key ‘players’ when it comes to delivering public artworks:
The artist engaged to create a public artwork will be heavily involved in the concept delivery aspects of the project. It is the artist’s idea and envisioned outcomes that the rest of the people involved in the project will be working towards. The artist takes a leadership role in making decisions that will affect the material and conceptual outcomes of the artwork. In most cases, the artist is responsible for recruiting other collaborators and contractors to work on the project. The artist sometimes makes the initial application for the commission or is approached by the curator for limited selection. The artist is required to attend all key meetings with the commissioners and may be involved in the promotion of the project to the media, funders, or other stakeholders. The artist is often, but not always responsible for the construction and installation aspects of the artwork. It’s a big job, but very rewarding when the concept comes to life.
Public Art Commissioners can be government bodies, private collection owners, developers, or businesses. This is the entity that is putting up the money for the artwork commission, possibly as part of a larger public place project or a wider public art strategy. The Commissioner will often employ a project manager and/or curator or have these roles allocated within their organisation. The commissioner will own the artwork at the end of the project, but not the intellectual property or copyright in the work, that will belong to the artist.
The Public Art Curator is the person who brings artists into a public art commissioning process. Often public art opportunities are broadly advertised for expressions of interest; however, the opportunities are often promoted directly to artists by curators, commissioners or others working in the field. Curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, has described the job of a curator “to preserve, in the sense of safeguarding the heritage of art… to be the selector of new work… and to connect to art history”. The Curator will offer critical discourse to the artist giving feedback, perspective, and parameters to shape the project and will be a champion for the artist’s ideas in conversations with the commissioner. They will also have a discourse more broadly in the field, often by writing essays or interpretations. The Curator’s knowledge of artists working in the field will enable opportunities for new voices, diversity, and gaps to be filled in public art collections. The curator’s concern in selecting artists will often be to create dialogue between the artist and the public.
The Project Manager
This role can vary depending on the needs of the project. Some of the aspects of the project that they may initially be responsible for include researching and/or developing the scope of the project, developing the Expression of Interest and/or artist’s brief, coordinating the select process, coordinate the involvement of curators, setting up a steering/advisory group, providing advice in relation the budget, drafting contracts. During the project they will be the key connector between the artist, client commissioner, contractors, project managers and other relevant stakeholders. They will often organise architectural briefing sessions for artists and artist’s studio visits for presentations to the stakeholders. During the project phases this role may track the design development, fabrication and installation of the work, coordinate risk management, public relations and collect documentation/data on the project. Because of the complex nature of public art projects, many government funding programs will not accept proposals for public artworks without the appointment of an experienced Project Manager.
Sometimes the roles of curator and project manager are bought together, your project may have just one person fulfilling both roles.
The role of fabricators in the public art realm is highly valued and can vary greatly in terms of the skills, qualifications and involvement that is needed. The fabricator may work with the artist as a studio assistant or independently under their direction. The appointed artist will need to decide how much ‘collaboration’ they have with the fabricator. In some projects this role is about manufacturing components to a specification or producing a method to create efficiently and effectively some, or all, of the artwork components in a specific material. In other projects the fabricator may give advice from the beginning of the project and be a collaborator on matters that effect all aspects of the delivery and conceptualising of a work including liaising with the project manager, curator, engineer, installers and possibly even the commissioner. Communication between artist and fabricator must be is clear and consistent to ensure they meet project deadlines.
*Artists should always seek two or more quotes from potential fabricators.
*There should always be a legal agreement in place between artist and fabricator, detailing all responsibilities and costs involved to protect both parties.
Designers or Drafters will sometimes be needed to translate artistic concept to a measured and precise technical drawing that can be used by the fabricator to ensure they meet the design specifications. The artist may have these skills and not require these services. It is worth considering how professional project imagery needs to be and how complex the fabrication of the work is. Precision drawings can save time and costs in the fabrication stage. Designers, draftsperson, or visualisers can create photorealistic perspective views and architectural renderings which can be viewed from any direction including people, cars, background landscape to put the public artwork in context.
Ideally there should be close collaboration between the artist, engineers, and those involved in fabrication. The engineer should be someone who has structural expertise and can develop structural engineering solutions while also delivering the artist’s vision and understanding their concept and focus. Working with engineers should be an iterative process to find solutions that materially express the intent of the artwork. Creative thinking is required from the engineering side to understand what is possible from a structural point of view, working through technical issues with engineers can sometimes be a way to refine or expand artist’s ideas. Some of the aspect’s engineers will consider include wind forces, structural fatigue, turbulence, footings required to accommodate weight, and gravity etc. Engaging engineers can be expensive but these calculations are vital. Engineers should offer formal certification for the work to be supplied to the project manager and commissioner.
Built Environment Professionals
A built environment professional (such as architects and landscape architects/designers) will often be involved in large, or landscape based, public art projects. The relationship between the artist and architect or landscape architect/designer is ideally collaborative as all parties work together to meet their own project objectives within the public realm. Artists may be able to draw on the expertise of the build environment professional to benefit the project outcome. Artists may be asked to compromise to make their artwork concept suitable to delivery of the building or landscape where it will be located. Interaction with architects and landscape designers can often enhance an inspire artistic ideas and it is best to establish strong working relationships at the beginning of projects where possible.
The role of an installer will be to assist and advise on site preparation, transportation of artwork, installation of artwork, lighting etc. Preparing for the installation of a public artwork is similar to organising a building site. Artists need to get permission to close footpaths and operate heavy machinery, and all staff need to be coordinated to work safely with the correct equipment. Your installation crew will work with you to consider what vehicles you will need, what is the access to the site, if you will need a crane, temporary fencing, cones or barriers, road, or pedestrian management, permits and other practical matters. At the end of a public art project it is vital to have a competent installation crew bringing the project to completion.
*DISCLAIMER: These blog posts are written by T Projects are not necessarily reflective of the position or opinions of any of our clients.