Project set up

How to Structure Your Project

  • Decide who will lead and manage your project and consider appointing a public art consultant / producer if you don’t have suitable expertise in place, if you have most of the skills required but need additional specific expertise consider approaching relevant advisors to support.
  • Consider setting up a project steering or advisory group which brings together the right mix of skills and partners you need to guide your project. For example if delivering a commission in a heritage setting make sure conservation officers provide guidance on parameters at an early stage of brief development. 
  • Of equal importance is curatorial expertise to ensure that decisions are not purely rooted in practicality but take a broader artistic view. 
  • Your steering group may include the commissioner, a Council or funder representative, a member of a design team (if the project is part of a development scheme), a representative of the site or landowner, local artistic expertise (e.g. an artist or curator) and a community representative. 
  • Keeping the group manageable in size is important to maintain focus, up to six members is ideal. 
  • The steering group may take on key roles at project milestones such as forming a selection panel, conducting artists interviews, reviewing design concepts etc.
  • Steering group members should be asked to declare any potential conflicts of interest on appointment and at group meetings. 
  • Steering group members can also act as an important resource for the appointed artist - providing specific knowledge, expertise, support and connections.
  • Meetings of the group should be timed to align with key programme milestones and should be set in place at the start of the project so members are aware of the commitment involved.
  • Ensure you have the project management and steering group in place as early as possible in the process so they can guide and shape all stages of the commission.

Shaped with the Community

  • A key value of public art in Barnsley is to develop projects for and with local communities. In order to successfully achieve this it is important to consider potential barriers to people participating in steering groups, for example building in an allowance for fees to pay freelancers so that they can contribute.
  • At the outset of the project you should consider how the community will be involved in the project (this will dictate what skills you are looking for in the artist you will appoint). The project may stem from community ideas as part of a process of co-creation; it could involve community members - on the project steering group; being involved in engagement and participatory arts activities; supporting and informing the artist research phase; being kept informed about the artist process online, (and being invited to comment) through blogs, and social media about the artists’ process.
  • It is important that all commissions leave a local impact and legacy. Consider what the project could do to support and develop locally based artists and inspire the next generation about creative careers. For example could a paid artist mentoring opportunity be built into the project? Could the artist set a live brief for local College or school students? 

Define the Project Idea and Vision

As a project steering group you need to be able to clearly explain what you want to achieve by delivering the project. It's important you have thought through the following so you can create a clear plan for the project. Having clarity at this stage will enable you to advocate for the project, make the case to any potential funders and lay out a clear artist brief. 

As a group carefully consider the following questions: 

  • What is your aim in commissioning an artwork? 
  • Who is it for? Who should be involved?
  • Is there a timeframe or deadline you need to work to? 
  • What is your budget? How might you fund this?
  • What would success look like? 
  • Can you identify any key risks or threats that may affect your ability to deliver the project?
  • What do you want the legacy of the project to be? 

Project Types

Art projects in public spaces can take many forms, but there are some broad types of projects you might want to consider. The type of project you choose should be driven by the aims of the project and you may take elements from different project types to best meet the outcomes you want to achieve. 

Permanent artworks might be standalone sculptures or trails of sculptures; artwork integrated into paving, walls or seating; it could be artist designed lighting or something else of a permanent nature in the public realm.   It is likely that you would require permanent artworks to be designed to last for a minimum of 15 years or more and maintenance considerations should be built in from the beginning.

Temporary artworks are designed to last for a much shorter period - maybe a temporary artwork or artist designed space that makes people think about a public space in a different way and lasts only a short time. The temporary artwork might be a vehicle for consultation and engagement about the future of a space, or it could be aimed at improving perceptions about a place during a period of change such as artists developing designs for construction hoardings or similar temporary structures. 

An artist in residence might be commissioned to spend time researching a specific context to draw out new understanding about a place, its people, heritage or specific issues and enable new thinking. Artists might engage with the public or specialists such as scientists, built environment or heritage professionals, or business owners  to shape the work which is process driven so the outcomes will not be known at the project outset. Artists might also work in a socially engaged way, working with people to explore social issues through creative participation, debate and collaboration. These kinds of projects could result in a wide variety of outcomes, for example - a short film, a piece of music, a temporary visual artwork or a series of podcasts.

Build your budget

You need to start thinking about the project budget in the set up phase. What will it cost to do what you want to do? Map out your budget, be realistic about costs and build in a generous contingency.  Consider what you need to pay the artists involved using sector guidance such as that developed by Artists Union England .

Writing a good artist brief

A clear and inspiring artist brief is key to setting your project off on a positive path. The brief needs to consider practical constraints, but must also be open enough to allow for the artists to respond with their creativity to come up with ideas that you haven’t considered before. 

Your brief shouldn’t try to give all the answers, but must provide a robust framework which sets out expectations for both artist and client and lays out how the project will work. It is something you can refer to for the life of the project. Contents may include :

  • Context for the project
  • Vision, aim and objectives 
  • Potential themes
  • Expected outcomes and deliverables
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • If a permanent work idea of location/ site for artwork and any key constraints/ technical information 
  • Expected lifespan and durability of artwork
  • Expectations around sustainability and how will the artist address environmental considerations 
  • Process, timeframe, key milestones and expectations for reporting
  • Budget/ Artist Fees 
  • Expectations around adherence to the commissioners policies, e.g. health & safety, safeguarding, copyright, equal opportunities
  • Requirements for artist insurances
  • Expectations around communications and PR about the project
  • Expectation around maintenance 
  • Clearly outline the application process and what artists should submit
  • Please note - it is not considered good practice to ask artists to present design ideas as part of the selection process as this would be unpaid work and would not give the artist scope to fully develop their ideas with the community and client 
  • Selection criteria 
  • A named contact for any questions or accessibility requirements

Other things to consider in the set up phase

  • Are there any procurement processes/ thresholds that you need to adhere to? 
  • Consider developing a communications plan to share the story of the commission as it develops.
  • Think how you can embed equity, diversity and inclusion principles throughout the process of the project.
  • Plan what the approach to monitoring, documenting and evaluating the project will be right from the start.