How to Commission an Artist – Case Study for Real Estate Developers

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How to Commission an Artist - 316 W Wash Before

In 2014, Hovde Properties, a real estate developer in Madison, Wisconsin, acquired a ten-story commercial building designed in brutalist architecture style, and located in the dynamic downtown. Hovde Properties committed $30 million to a massive renovation of the building that included adding windows to the solid facade. The goal of the project was to provide the amenities and aesthetic that would attract high-growth technology companies as tenants.

The new windows looked great, but CEO Eric Hovde and his team knew the project needed something extra to transform the building and attract the desired tenants. In January 2015, Hovde decided to commission an artist to design an exterior mural. The dimensions for the exterior mural were approximately 123’x15’, and the budget for this art commission was to be over $500,000. The selected piece would need to enliven the facade with a sense of dynamism that reflected its urban setting.

The Hovde team had been through the process of commissioning art for a building, but this was a project of a much larger scale. They knew they didn’t have the network to reach artists of the desired level of talent, or the resources available to manage the application process. The challenge:

How to commission an artist? Especially an artist that they knew could deliver an impressive exterior mural for the face of their whole redevelopment project.



CODAworx RFP ToolkitEric had worked with CODAworx, the hub of the commissioned art economy, on his previous commissions. He knew he could tap into the CODAworx pool of 17,000 international artists that could deliver an exterior mural that could “wow!” prospective tenants.

He decided to leverage the CODAworx RFP Concierge Service to expand Hovde expertise and reach. The Hovde team was assigned their own CODAworx RFP Specialist to handle the RFP/RFQ process from start to finish.

The CODAworx Specialist interviewed key stakeholders and worked closely with them to write a custom Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for electronic distribution. CODAworx quickly sent the RFP to a targeted group of professionals appropriate to Hovde’s RFQ: wall artists, muralists, lighting artists, architects, and creative teams that specialize in large scale public works. The CODAworx team handled any questions about the RFP or application process, removing this load from the Hovde team. Applications soon were coming in, consistently organized, and presented to Hovde for online review. Electric Waterfall from CODAworx. Video © Ting-Li Lin/Snowforest


How to Commission an Artist - 316 W Wash AfterThe RFP Concierge Service enabled the Hovde team to focus their full attention on reviewing which artist was the right fit. After 3 weeks, the deadline closed with a total of 54 applicants.

The committee selected and requested design concepts from 7 finalists. Each were provided an honorarium for their sketches and ideas. The Hovde team knew that developing a relationship with the artist was key to the success of the project, and they made their decision based on concept and person. After final interviews and presentation proposals, in June 2015 the real estate developer hired artist Jonathan Brown of Modern Mosaics in Houston.

Jonathan Brown is a nationally-recognized public artist. His commissions range from mosaic tilework for wall decor and swimming pools, to grand installations in public spaces. Eric had the idea for a waterfall on the front of this building and Jonathan ran with the idea. Jonathan and a team of 12 studio artists spent 16 months moving from sketches, to prototypes, to the final complete installation that stands on the building today. The final mural consists of 60 acrylic panels painted as an abstract waterfall. Dotted into the panels are 500 multi-color LED nodes designed to make it sparkle. The LEDs along with theatrical spotlights shining on the installation are programmable for any occasion, from Packers football colors, to the default flowing water illusion that gives this exterior mural the waterfall Hovde originally envisioned.

In answer to the question “How to commission an artist?” Hovde found it very simple by using the CODAworx RFP Concierge Service. After defining his vision, he was able to hand off the project to the CODAworx specialists and relax, knowing that in the end he would hire a top artist and create a powerful artwork.

Real estate development teams can use this as a model of how to combine a bold statement about a building’s value with a contribution to the community. While the art is privately commissioned, it is accessible for public enjoyment, adds to our sense of place, and adds to how a city like Madison defines itself. It inspires pedestrians as they walk by and creates a landmark for visitors. CODAworx encourages real estate developers, architects, and business leaders to commission projects that drive value for private stakeholders and enrich the public community as well. How to Commission an Artist - 316 W Wash After

From Eric

How to Commission an Artist - Eric Hovde“I’m a big fan of CODAworx. We would never have had access to all the artists. They were invaluable throughout the whole process. I don’t know why you would ever try to do it on your own, it would just be so much more time and you’re not going to have anywhere near the end result. – Eric Hovde, CEO, Hovde Properties



Learn how CODAworx can help you commission an artist. Take the First Step – Contact CODAworx >>


From Jonathan

How to Commission an Artist - Jonathan Brown“Having a centerpiece for urban development helps everyone. People come to downtown Madison to have dinner and hang out and look at the Waterfall. You have to ask yourself, ‘Six months ago, would anyone have stopped and taken two minutes to look at that building?’ It is a testament to how much Hovde cares about Madison that they were willing to put this kind of work into the project. There are similar opportunities around the country where investors are trying to revitalize their own communities, but when you make an investment in a building as large as this one, you want to make sure that your investment has results – even if it is a labor of love. The Hovde investment will have cascading effects for decades. In the end, the only measurable result will be the value of the real estate, but the effect on the community is really what closes the deal. – Jonathan Brown, Artist, Modern Mosaics

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