Set Up for Success: Creating a Successful Public Art Call

What is a successful public art call? For some entities, it might be a large number of applicants. For others, it could be a smaller group of top tier candidates. Still another organization may be more focused on finding the best way to collect all of the information, documents, and images. From municipalities to universities, arts organizations to hospitals, calls for public art come in all shapes, sizes, materials, and budgets.

Whether you’re seasoned or new to seeking artist applications, keeping the following in mind helps create a call that works for all.

Be clear.

Are there geographic restrictions to the pool of artists where the call is only open to artists from a certain area? Can applicants submit multiple times? Include those guidelines in your eligibility requirements.

Is the budget limited? Is the project perhaps a good fit for an emerging artist? Are there restrictions to the site? Including specifics, such as site description and budget, can help artists self-select into (or out of) applying to calls.

CaFE’s call editor breaks the application into sections and includes editing tools such as making text bold, creating bulleted lists, and indenting paragraphs to make it easy for organizations to include all of the relevant information in a way that’s easy for would-be applicants to read.

Sample Application Form

Use the right tools for the job.

In the public art world, a request for qualifications (RFQ) helps organizations find qualified applicants. This type of call is the most prevalent, as it offers artists the opportunity to submit requested documents, such as their resume and statement of interest, and use images of past works to showcase why they are qualified to create new work for this particular call.

A request for proposals (RFP) asks an artist to propose a work specific to the project’s site or needs; RFPs ask for work from the artist upfront, including the kind of proposal materials that finalists are paid to create.

Sample RFQ listing

Make less work for everyone.

Take the pain out of the process by collecting all the items you need from artists in an easy, effective manner. Calls posted on CaFE can ask artists to supply a resume or CV, letter of interest, references, images, audio, video, and more, all with the click of a button. Customize your call as much as you need to.

Ask for the things you need at the appropriate time. Need proof of insurance from the final group of selected artists? It’s better to ask for specific items on an individual basis and not require all applicants to include unnecessary information or documents. Keep in mind that the CaFE system has built-in communication tools, so you can send notifications to artists and messages to a single artist or group of artists when the time comes to gather additional items.

No matter how you define success, ultimately, no one wants to feel like they’re wasting time. Arts administrators want a pool of qualified applicants (and exposure to a group of existing public artists). Artists want to apply to relevant calls to which they are well-suited and have a higher chance of placement. Administrators want a streamlined, smooth process to make adjudication simple and focus on selecting the exact right artist or artwork for the space.


Get Inspired. Click here to view a list of Public Art calls on CaFE!
Ready to signup and use CaFÉ? Click here to request a free demo for organizations.

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!

Author: Elyse McNiffKoglmeier