At NINE dot ARTS, we collaborate with artists whose work aligns with our clients’ brand and vision. But often communities, municipalities, and cities don’t have the time or resources to research and curate artists in this way. Instead, they’ll host an artist invitational, Request for Qualifications, or Request for Proposals. So what’s the difference?
- Artist Invitational – When an organization, community, municipality, or city has a public art project and a group of artists in mind who they know are qualified, they’ll invite those artists to submit qualifications and/or a proposal design before selecting the winner.
- Request for Qualifications (RFQ) – When an organization, community, municipality, or city has a public art project and wants to create a shortlist of artists, they’ll seek qualifications from select individuals (such as their artist statement, resume, and examples of past projects) and narrow their list down before soliciting a design proposal.
- Request for Proposal (RFP) – When an organization, community, municipality, or city has a public art project and a general vision for it (medium of the piece, what it should represent, the associated story, etc.), they will seek proposals from artists inquiring about their idea for the piece. Proposal elements vary by project, but generally include a cover letter, portfolio, resume/CV, written and visual narrative for the intended artwork, and timeline/budget. Often, a group of artists will be given a design stipend to create a proposal before the final artist is selected.
Before seeking out RFQs and RFPS, be sure your website and social media explicitly make clear that you are available for commissions. It’s a simple task that many artists forget. Additionally, post photos, details, and testimonials related to other projects you’ve completed and those that are in progress. This demonstrates your credibility and skill to proposal committees who may end up reviewing your work.
Where to Find Art Opportunities
- Consider following any art consultants or agencies (like NINE dot ARTS!) in your area who may be seeking art for public and private spaces. A simple Google search should help you find those organizations so you can subscribe to their social media channels and newsletters to be on the lookout for commission opportunities.
- Monitor your city and state websites for commission opportunities. For example, Denver Arts and Venues regularly updates their website with various Public Art Opportunities, while the Seattle Office of Arts & Culture frequently updates their Calls for Artists and Funding Opportunities. Consider adding a biweekly reminder to your calendar to skim these kinds of websites in your city, state, and region.
- Make note of key arts and cultural organizations, like those listed below, that post commission opportunities. Subscribe to the newsletters of these organizations and/or follow them on social media to stay up to date on potential projects.
- CAFE (Call for Entry)
- Artwork Archive
- Art and Art Deadlines
- Art Deadline
- Res Artist
- The Art Guide
- Art Deadline
- Americans for the Arts
- Public Artist
- Art Opportunities Monthly
- Bidnet Direct – This is a paid platform that provides targeted government bid opportunities, allowing you to pay a subscription fee to access state, local, and federal opportunities.
- Social media sites like @Call_for_Artist, @callforentries, @artrubicon (Canada-focused), and @Call4ArtistsUK (UK-focused) will often post open calls, while Facebook groups like Art Opportunities, Jobs, and Advice will share details on open studio space, available grants, and art show calls.
Best Practices for Your Artist Proposal
Now that you know where to find these art opportunities, let’s discuss how to win them.
- Read the instructions carefully. This may sound obvious, but it’s especially important when proposals require certain formats or application processes. You don’t want to ruin your chances by neglecting a key element or simply submitting your proposal incorrectly. If you can’t follow the instructions, it’s easy for review committees to rule your proposal out.
- Keep it professional. One of the most common mistakes applicants make is throwing together a proposal that feels incomplete or out of date. Much like reading the instructions, it’s important to ensure your final proposal is polished and professional while following the format outlined in the initial RFP. Remember, your proposal is a reflection of you and your process, so treat it as such!
- Budgeting is key. Ensure your budget falls within the amount specified in the RFP, especially after you factor in payments to project partners, insurance, etc. Consider including a contingency fee to account for uncertainties, noting that it will not be used without client approval. If you want to propose a budget higher than what the RFP has allocated, clearly articulate why this is important for your artwork and how you can adapt your proposal should the extra funds be unavailable.
- Ask questions. You never know what insights you might glean that can end up making your proposal stronger. Plus, asking questions demonstrates to the review committee that you’re a proactive professional and someone to look out for during the proposal review process.
- Just start! We recognize that formal RFQ processes can feel intimidating and bureaucratic. The best thing you can do is take a deep breath and dive in, even if you start small. You’ll never know what your chances are or how to improve your proposals until you start.
What to Include:
RFPs often vary in their requirements and submission processes. Be sure to read the instructions so your proposal follows the requested format and includes all required information. The elements below offer a solid starting point for compiling your proposal.
- Cover letter – While not always included, some proposals require a cover letter where you should state your understanding, interest, and intent for the project and provide a brief overview of your proposed artwork.
- Table of contents
- Artist Statement and resume/CV – You may consider modifying your artist statement and resume/CV to better align with the proposed project and feature specific experience that would support your proposal.
- Written and visual narrative about your proposed artwork (mock-up) – This is a critical component of your submission, as it tells the review committee exactly what you intend for your artwork and how your design will fulfill larger project goals. Be sure this section both tells a compelling story and highlights key considerations such as materials, climate, location, interior vs. exterior logistics, etc.
- Proposed timeline and budget
- Potential partners
Altogether, your proposal should reflect the unique strengths you will bring to the project, articulated in a clear and comprehensive way.
For more information on where to find public art opportunities and how to win them, watch our webinar with artist and author Thomas “Detour” Evans below. Detour explains how to secure a public art commission with a stellar proposal and even shares his own winning proposal for a large-scale commission at the Denver International Airport.