Commission Tips: Establishing Roles & Responsibilities in Commission Art Projects

The Art Commission: Glacial Twist Terrazzo Floor but Teresa Cox
Glacial Twist Terrazzo Floor by Teresa Cox, Amsoil Arena, Duluth Entertainment Convention Center, Duluth, MN. Commissioning Agent: The Duluth Public Art Commission. Architect: SJA Architects.

When design professionals and artists come together to work on a commission art project, a clear delineation of who does what from day one will help the project go smoothly, meet client expectations, and keep the project on time and on budget. Here, two experienced commission artists and an artist’s business manager share their advice on successfully establishing the roles and responsibilities of those involved in a successful art project.

Artist Teresa Cox likes to begin a commission from a place that borders on “information overload.” “It really helps to sit down with the client, architect, and designer to hear the ideas and concepts around the project,” Cox says. “Whenever possible, I like to visit and walk the site.” To understand and review the full scope of the project and the expectations for a successful design process, Cox finds the following to be helpful:

  • Overall site review
  • Establishment of communication stream between project members
  • Documents and samples of site materials and colors
  • Budget and contract
  • Timeline for design and installation
  • Artwork concept and a system for reviewing and approving artwork designs
  • Fabrication and installation details

“I typically share my design process,” Cox adds, “and this can help to establish clarity and shared expectations around the commission.”

Talley Fisher, Sunrise Cascade
Sunrise Cascade by Talley Fisher, Pinnacle Bank Headquarters, Omaha, NE. Commissioning agent: Holly Hackwith, Corporate Art Co., Omaha

True Fisher, president of Rob Fisher Sculpture, LLC, also suggests artists and design professionals create a “sample contract” before a commission is granted. “It should include the responsibilities of the artist, such as designs, and a list of items and services the artist will provide, including materials, fabrication, installation details, and a payment schedule,” Fisher says. “It should also include the responsibilities of the client, including crating and shipping costs, technical information like architectural plans, preparation plans for the installations site, obtaining installation equipment, travel expenses for the artists, labor, and lighting.”

Fisher adds that it’s important to email records of these conversations to whomever it is relevant, so all parties have documentation of early discussions, especially telephone conversations.

Water's Edge by Michael Bauermeister
Water’s Edge by Michael Bauermeister, Banner Hospital, Phoenix, AZ. Commissioning Agent: Angela Lafica, NTD Architecture. Photo: Angela Lafica.

Michael Bauermeister, an artist who regularly does work on commission, suggests that working from an artist’s catalog of previous commission work can be helpful in managing expectations for a new project. “When I make a new piece, just for myself, without the thought of a customer or help from a designer, I am completely free to follow my muse,” explains Bauermeister. “I think my best original work comes from this situation, and I prefer to base commission work closely on these original pieces. While changes in scale or technique are certainly possible, if the new piece can stay pretty close to an existing piece, everyone involved will have a good idea of what the result will be.”