How We Commission Artists
Houston Arts Alliance, through its Civic Art + Design department, manages the process of acquiring and conserving artworks for the City of Houston’s art collection.
HAA accomplishes this by entering into contracts with City departments and with affiliated local government corporations, including Houston Airport System and Houston First Corporation. Civic art projects thus constitute a collaboration between HAA and City of Houston departments and corporate entities.
Funding for civic art comes primarily from the 1.75% civic art allocation included in the budgets of City of Houston Capital Improvement Program projects for vertical construction. A City department may also elect to allocate funds to a civic art project over and above the mandated 1.75%.
HAA does not control the City’s civic art funds. The funds are held by the City Finance Department until a City department decides to expend them. At that time, the relevant department contracts with HAA to acquire the artwork, either directly or through a commission process.
After HAA has entered into a civic art contract, it works closely with the staff of the City department or a local government corporation to determine the parameters of the project, including physical size, budget, location, etc. The contracting department must approve all scoping. This process culminates in a Letter of Authorization by the department permitting HAA to work on the project. HAA staff presents the final scope to the Civic Art Committee, a standing committee of the HAA Board, for information.
SELECTING ARTISTS FOR CIVIC ART PROJECTS
The process for selecting artists for civic art projects is this:
Before the start of each fiscal year, the Civic Art Committee and the HAA staff develop a list of artists to be considered for new projects. They develop the list through Requests for Qualifications/Open Call and direct invitation. Requests for Qualifications are written in alliance with Public Art Network best practices and advertised in appropriate outlets.
The Civic Art Committee must approve this annual artist pool. At any time, HAA staff and the Committee may consider artists not in this pool for unique or high-budget commissions. Program details for annual artists’ pool are will be released annually.
For each new project, HAA staff develops a shortlist of artists to be considered, drawing from the artist pool and if necessary by issuing direct invitations. Artists on the shortlist receive a detailed Request for Proposal, drawn up in alliance with Public Art Network’s best practices.
REVIEW PROCESS FOR PUBLIC ART COMMISSIONS
A Selection Panel comprising three to five professionals reviews each proposal.
Before the start of the fiscal year, the Civic Art Committee and the HAA staff develop a list of candidates to serve on one or more of these panels. The Committee must approve the final list. The staff uses the final list to solicit members of individual review panels.
For smaller-scale projects, the panel typically consists of three members: two arts professionals and a representative of the facility where the artwork will be placed.
For major projects, panels typically have five members: A representative from the facility where the artwork will be placed, the facility architect (if new construction), and three arts professionals. The last may include curators, artists, collectors, conservators, and museum professionals. Panelists may come from Houston or elsewhere, but for major projects the goal is always to have at least one out-of-town panelist.
For major commissions the panel will be asked to consider not only artistic quality but also client concerns, conservation needs, security concerns, weather issues, et cetera. Panels consider the artist’s credentials, critical reputation, and professional recognition; ability to respond to the needs of the community and multiple stakeholders; and ability to manage successfully all aspects of the project, including budgets, schedules, subcontractors and installers.
The panel recommends one or more artists or artist design teams. Those are asked to create a more thorough proposal, which is reviewed at a second panel meeting. Additional panel meetings and site visits may be needed before a decision is reached.
Non-voting silent observers, representing the facility acquiring the artwork, the HAA board, or the Civic Art Committee, may be present during panel deliberations. HAA staff advises panels in evaluating whether the artist’s proposal conforms to the project goals as stated in the Request for Proposal. But at no time may staff recommend a selection. If asked, a staff member may provide professional experience directly related to the discussion. Panels make their recommendations by majority vote, recorded in the minutes.
Before panels convene, panelists are provided a list of artists whose proposals they will be asked to consider. Panelists are required, before their first panel meeting, to report in writing any conflict of interest. A panelist with a conflict of interest may not vote on that artist’s proposal and must leave the room during discussion of it. HAA strives to create panels free of conflicts of interest. If an invited panelist reports multiple conflicts of interest, HAA reserves the right to rescind the invitation to participate.
The Civic Art Committee is responsible for reviewing the panel’s recommendation, affirming that the artwork is appropriate for the location, and verifying that all policies and procedures have been followed.
Once approved by majority vote of the Committee, the panel’s recommendation goes to the HAA Executive Committee for a vote. If the Executive Committee approves, the recommendation goes to the contracting City department, which has the final OK. If the department director does not accept the recommendation, HAA, through the Civic Art Committee, begins the selection process again. This review process must be pre-approved by the contracting department’s director.
ANTICIPATED TIMELINE FOR CIVIC ART PROJECTS
Commissioning or acquiring civic art is a lengthy process, requiring many reviews and checkpoints. The process may be especially lengthy when the artwork is to be integrated into a new facility, as construction budgets and calendars are subject to change. In short, realizing a civic art project can take months or years.
Recent civic art commissions in Houston that have taken multiple years include such monumental works as Radiant Fountains by Dennis Oppenheim at Bush Intercontinental Airport and Bert Long’s ART/LIFE, at Looscan Branch Library. But in both cases the process resulted in art of which our city can be proud.
CONTRACTS AND PAYMENTS
Once a proposal receives final approval by the contracting City of Houston entity, HAA notifies the artist in writing and develops a draft contract, which is submitted to the artist for review. The contract is not binding until signed and notarized by the artist and the CEO of HAA or Chairman of the HAA Board.
The contract stipulates in detail the payment schedule and the documentation the artist must provide before receiving payment. Throughout the contract, HAA is obligated to pay or reimburse the artist only after receiving payment from the City department or local government corporation that is funding the project.
Title to artwork passes to the City upon final acceptance by the City department director having jurisdiction over the project. Civic art projects are accessioned by the Collections Manager upon acceptance into the City Collection by City Council and transfer of title to the affected department.