Better Your Chances at Landing a Public Art Commission: Advice from the Field

Is landing a public art commission your white whale? Want to increase your chances of being selected for an RFQ?

We get it – public art commissions are competitive. We want to help you succeed in your career and start landing those projects.

We sought out the advice of Beth Ravitz, a public artist and public art consultant in southern Florida, and Carolyn Braaksma*, a public artist in Denver. Here is what they shared:


Q: When you first started applying for public art commissions what is one mistake that you made and learned from?     

BETH: The importance of EXCELLENT images of projects.


Q: How can artists get feedback during the application process?

CAROLYN: Quite often the public art programs will host an info session to give new artists insight on applying for Calls for Artists.               


Q: Has applying to RFQs online improved the submission process for artists or are there still challenges?

BETH: Online submissions have improved the applying process 100%! CaFÉ has made the process so much better for artists.

CAROLYN: The new way with online applications is definitely more cost effective. We now aren’t paying hundreds of dollars for slides.


Q: Public art commissions are very competitive. How does an artist stand out?

BETH: Again….artists must make sure they have excellent images of their work.  

Be sure to write a tailored letter of interest that ties into the specific project and site that is requested.

Keep it short! Committees do NOT like to read; they have enough work going through images.    

Another hint – artists should make every effort to contact the Public Art administrator and develop a relationship with that person.  Ask for advice on your submission. If you are a semi-finalist and do not get the project, ask for feedback.

I developed a relationship with an artist from Portland, OR as the administrator for Lauderhill, Florida. He kept contacting me for information about his submission.  At first it was annoying, but then along the way he became very interesting to me as we began an art relationship of exchanging ideas.  He did not get the project, but we became friends. I got a project a year later in Portland, and contacted him.  He was extremely helpful!!  He went to the site for me to accept the art shipment and found me an installer!  As a result, I invited him for a short list for a project in Lauderhill.

CAROLYN: That’s a mystery because as the application process has become easier, there are many more artists applying for the projects. Making the shortlist has a LOT to do with what the panel wants for their project and what their agenda is. It’s a crapshoot to make the short list unless the artist has a big reputation.


Q: If you can improve one thing in the competition processes what would it be?

BETH: I would limit the number of submissions allowed.  Each administrator should tailor it to their City. Does a committee really need 300 submissions? I think the MOST submissions allowed should be 200. The first 200 artists to apply get their applications accepted. Or, the number could be less if the City is smaller. Again, it should be left up to the administrator/consultant. Many times, to ease the process, I invite a limited amount of artists to submit.

CAROLYN: Eliminate proposals and RFPs. Use RFQs ONLY that are based on our past work and qualifications. From that, the panel should be able to determine how the artist thinks and processes. The more evolved programs do not use RFPs – as programs that do oftentimes ask too much of artists especially when the honorarium doesn’t cover a site visit.

Feeling more confident? Find a public art RFQ on CaFE and apply today!

*See Carolyn’s public art works on Public Art Archive!

CallForEntry Update to Save You Time!

Great news! The CallForEntry™ (CaFE™) software has been updated to save you more time!

You can now upload images as small as 1200 pixels on one side. This change will allow you to upload images to your portfolio without taking the time to reformat them to the previously required format of 1920 pixels on one side.

As a result of this change, CaFE users may:

  • Upload JPEGs that are 1200 pixels or greater on the longest side (either H or W).
  • Spend less time upsizing JPEG files and use your upload-ready image files more easily.

Current images in your CaFE portfolio will not be affected by this change and you may continue to use these images when applying to calls. The reduced pixel size only affects new JPEG uploads.

NEW image specifications for uploading to CaFE:

  • File format: JPEG or JPG only
  • File dimensions: 1200 pixels or greater on the longest dimension
  • File size: under 5 MB

Questions? Contact us at cafe(at)westaf(dot)org.

How to Write an Artist Statement: Stop Stalling & Start Writing

Calvin & Hobbes. Cartoon by Bill Watterson, July 15, 1995

 

Do you consider artist statements a necessary evil? As artists we use visuals to convey our ideas, not words. But it is important for our viewers to understand the concepts behind our works.

Good news: you don’t have to be a writer to write an artist statement. After reading this post, you’ll write a clear and professional statement in no time!

First things first: why write an artist’s statement?

You will never be everywhere with your artwork. It’s important to craft a thoughtful narrative so that those accessing your work, whether that be a curator, gallery dealer, competition judge, or the general viewing public, can better understand it.

Once your artist statement is written, you’ll be able to repurpose it in multiple ways:

  • Applying for funding or to graduate schools
  • Writing a proposal for an exhibition
  • Competing in a competition
  • Getting your work in front of a buyer. Liz Iracki reminded us in Artist Resume that the buyer wants to know your story.
  • Putting yourself in the public eye, i.e. visiting lecture or press release.

And, what’s an artist’s statement again?

A general introduction to your work or body of work. Most are a full page, but some can be as short as a paragraph.

Where does your artist statement live?

Your artist’s statement should always accompany your work:

  • Online: on your website
  • In the gallery: displayed as wall text or in a binder at the front of the gallery
  • In submissions: including, but not limited to, art competitions, school applications, RFQs and grant proposals.

How do I write a statement?

Before you set pen to paper, answer these important questions:

  • Who is your audience? What knowledge do they have of your art, your medium, or even the art world?
  • How will your statement be used?
  • What do you want your statement to convey about you as an artist? What do you make? Why do you make it? How do you make it?

Then determine your tone. Do you want the statement to be emotional? Humorous? Professional? Keep your reader in mind but stay true to yourself: speak from your own experiences and perspective.

Sometimes it’s helpful to have a framework when brainstorming your statement. Feel free to use this general outline to get started:

  • First paragraph: Make a good first impression! Invite the reader in by providing a brief overview of your work and the concepts you explore (~3 sentences). What are you trying to say in your work, and why did you create it in the first place?
  • Second paragraph: Go into more detail about the issues presented in the work. What influences your work and motivates you to create? What tools, materials, and processes do you use? How does the current work relate to previous works?
  • Third paragraph: Summarize the statement briefly (aim for one sentence). Provide a takeaway you’d like your reader to have as a lasting impression.

Here’s some advice for what to avoid in your statement:

  • Repetition of phrases and words: be concise
  • Monotonous structure/tone: vary your sentence length and structure
  • Clichés and trite statements: be yourself
  • Long explanations: be clear
  • Too much technicality or jargon: speak to your reader
  • On the other hand, don’t use flowery, vague writing: be direct
  • Pomposity: stay humble.

Tip: Refer to yourself in the first person, “I”, and not as the artist so that your audience can relate to YOU.

How should you format the statement?

It should not be longer than a page. Make it single space and no smaller than 10-12 font.
And don’t forget to keep copies of all iterations. It makes it easier to write a new statement for a new body of work, and helps those that may curate a retrospective!

Ultimately, keep your statement clear, concise, direct, and HONEST. The reader should hear your voice coming through the prose.

And if we’re being honest, writing an artist statement is not an easy task, but you’ll discover more about yourself as an artist with this exercise.

Still stuck?

It’s OK; getting started is like pulling off a bandaid. Try these two helpful exercises to get the ideas and words flowing:

  • Mind map: Jot down a key idea that informs your work in the center of a page and write any words, phrases, feelings, etc. that come to mind when you think of this idea.
  • Free writing: Spend ~15 minutes writing. And don’t overthink it! Just write!

Once you’ve crafted your standout statement, save it and have it ready to include in your CaFÉ submissions!