Tips for Finding a Public Commission Art Opportunity

Tips for Finding a Public Commission Art Opportunity

Interested in making work that will become a part of your city’s landscape? 

Suzy Kopf

If you’re an artist interested in making work that will be shown publicly or that will become part of the permanent landscape of your city, you need to consider applying for public commissions.

“Public art is any opportunity that an artist has to engage with the public realm. It is about artists making a conscious effort to engage and collaborate in the public realm,” said artist, public art manager, and consultant Renee Piechocki.

This sector of the art world is often (but not always) associated with and overseen by nonprofits, which means that instead of selling yourself and your ideas to one person—such as a gallerist or collector as you do in the commercial art world—you need to convince a whole group of people such as a board of directors of your work’s relevance.

The convincing happens in the application you’ll put together which typically includes an image portfolio of previous projects, a written component, and sometimes, a full project proposal and budget.

But, before you can even get to putting together a winning application, you need to find calls for public commissions in which to apply.

Start with the right places to search for art opportunities

Artwork Archive is a great place to start your search; our 2023 Opportunity Guide has national and regional public commissions listed, with more opportunities being added all the time.

Commissions that are selected by public call and projects are often paid for by taxpayers’ money, which means that who is eligible to apply is often limited to where you live by state, region, or even county.

The way to find the most opportunities in which you are eligible is to start your search in your own community. This is also a good place to start if you haven’t done any budget-based project work before—it’s harder (but not impossible) to get the opportunity to make a six-figure international commission if you haven’t first done a few smaller budget ones in the past.

Consider places in your community such as hospitals, museums, and airports

When searching in your community, consider places where you frequently see public art pieces such as hospitals, museums that get state funding, airports, municipal and government offices, and public lands like parks and recreation areas with outdoor sculptures or installations.

Hospitals can be a great place for you to market and sell your artwork. According to the Arts and Health Alliance, 56% of all hospitals, hospices and nursing centers use parts of their operating budgets to buy paintings and sculptures.

Airport terminals are looking more and more like the wings of an art museum. With their massive atriums, seemingly endless corridors, and captive travelers, airports are a perfect venue for art installations.

Tip: learn more about working with hospitals here and working with airports here.

Look on the websites of these entities and see if they have any calls for proposals listed. Sign up for their opportunity newsletters or join Artwork Archive’s newsletter and get weekly opportunities like public art deadlines sent to your inbox.

If the organizations that you are interested in don’t have anything currently on their website, you can try instead to look up the CVs of the artists who previously created work for these sites. See if you can find more information there.

You can also reach out over email to people with job titles such as “Public Arts Coordinator” who work for your city’s government or any city-sponsored arts organizations to find out when their next deadline is.

Look to those artists who have previously secured public funding for their work

As always, it’s never a bad idea to review the CVs of artists you know who have already done some public commissions and see if you can learn anything about when or how much funding they received to complete their work.

You can also reach out to them directly and ask if they would be willing to talk to you about their experience with a particular commission, and if they recommend it. You’d be surprised how much most people are willing to freely share about their experiences.

Expand your search for public art commissions once you have gotten a few projects under your belt

Once you’ve acquainted yourself with what kinds of local opportunities exist where you live, and gotten a couple of projects to the completion stage, you can expand your searches to national and international opportunities you’re eligible for.

With these opportunities you feel your work is a good match for, ask yourself how far you are willing to travel to both make and deliver the artwork.

Are you willing to drive a sculpture you made in California to Chicago for display?

Pay attention to the information in the call that indicates a bias towards local or already-established artists—if you don’t fall into one of those groups you could be wasting your time. Like with all applications, expect to put in a lot of work for possibly a lot of rejection. But if you’re successful with even one application, your art has the possibility to live on beyond you in a totally new way!

Increase your chances of getting accepted by following directions. “If an RFQ says don’t come up with an idea, then don’t propose an idea. In an RFQ, you are not looking for projects developed in isolation. You are looking for artists to come up with an idea in the context of the project and with the community,” Renee Piechocki advises.

Search and save your favorite public art opportunities on Artwork Archive 

Each year the Artwork Archive team goes on a mission to find the best art opportunities, grants, and calls-for-entry for the upcoming year—including the best public art opportunities.

You can find a list of the top call for public art, artist residencies, international open calls, artist grants, exhibition opportunities and art competitions in Artwork Archive’s 2023 Opportunity Guide

This year, we added another new feature! You can now save the important deadlines for your favorite opportunities right in your Artwork Archive account.

When you find a call that interests you, simply click ‘Add to Schedule’ and the call’s deadline will be automatically added to your Schedule. You’ll also receive weekly reminders to keep you on top of your game.

We will be updating this list throughout the year, so make sure to bookmark the page, check back often, and let us know if there is an opportunity that should be listed!

Cover photo:

“41 Structures,” a creative collaboration between Debbie Clapper (aka gneural) & Cacheflowe, is an immersive digital mural that evolves through a series of 41 animated designs. By anchoring our animated elements to window corners and subdividing the architecture into a necessarily-imperfect grid, we built a custom canvas for our geometries to explore and play together. Photo by Ryan Policky.

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