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Advice on Project Management


Over the last few years, it has become common for public and private sector organisations to recognise the contribution that artists can make to regeneration and development. Artists are now taking their place within design and masterplanning processes, and/or are being commissioned to deliver creative responses which are integrated within aspirations for a quality public realm.

There is a wealth of excellent advice on how to commission artists, and upon the different roles, which public artists can take.

It is acknowledged that setting thoughtful, creative criteria and briefs to match the right artist with the right commission is key to a quality outcome.

However, there is a deficit of practical advice on the role of, and skills needed in order to undertake project management within the field of public art. PASW has therefore produced this brief overview and practical guidance paper which is intended to be of assistance to those wishing to appoint a project manager or undertake that role.

This paper does not cover the wider role of public art consultant/curator – where consultants develop strategies and commissioning frameworks. This is covered in the Commissioning Guidelines paper by Vivien Lovell for Modus Operandi Arts Consultants (please note this paper is copyrighted to Vivien Lovell and Arts Council England.) You are also referred to PASW’s ‘Guidelines for Commissioning and Selecting Artists and Craftspeople’.

Definition of terms: what is a public art project manager?

Just as with defining a lead artist, defining a project manager is difficult, and the roles and responsibilities have become more disparate and complex within the last few years.

A public art project manager is also not to be confused with the development’s project manager who may be overseeing all the construction and development timetable. Broadly a project manger will co-ordinate and manage the process of a commission from its inception to its installation, launch and adoption.

Some commissioners like to share the role of project manger with a lead artist; some project managers may be entirely responsible for all legal and technical aspects, although this is rare and not best practice. The role of a project manager is a practical one, but it must be a creative and sophisticated one too.

What does project management cover?

A project manager may be expected to take responsibility for any of the following:

  • Setting up a steering group or recruitment panel
  • Advocacy
  • Setting or co-ordinating the budget
  • Managing the budget
  • Advising on the appropriate selection procedures for identifying artists
  • Writing the artists' briefs
  • Setting criteria and protocol for selection
  • Drawing up and negotiating the artist’s contract
  • Setting up and overseeing maintenance, insurance and ownership issues
  • Recruitment of artists
  • Acting as a broker between the artist and the commissioner/contractors
  • Managing permissions and reporting procedures
  • Managing technical, health and safety and risk assessment issues
  • PR and marketing
  • Community and/or stakeholder consultation
  • Parallel projects such as mentoring for emerging artists, community or temporary projects to run alongside the main scheme
  • Installation including site research and preparation issues
  • Transport issues
  • Launch
  • Monitoring and evaluation process
  • Snagging
  • Follow up
  • Documentation
  • Advising on decommissioning

How much should a project manager cost and how many days should he or she work?

There are no set fee scales for project managers and fees can be anything between a scale of £175 - £1,000 ex VAT and expenses, depending upon experience and the complexity and scale of the development.

As a general rule, project management is likely to cost between 8-10% of the public art budget. This will give a fair indication of how many days the project manager's work is likely to take.

The legal, technical and maintenance issues for example on a multi-million pound scheme are likely to be far more onerous and complex than those of a suite of street furniture. It is true however, that small community schemes, especially those with delicate political or stakeholder aspirations to be served can take a disproportionate amount of time.

For whom does the project manager work?

It can be difficult to settle where loyalties and responsibilities lie.

Of course, the project manager is engaged by the commissioner: this may be a developer, a local authority, or a housing association. It can sometimes appear however, even to the project manager, that they are working on behalf of the artist. The project manager can be found arguing a better deal for the artist in contract negotiations, finding more budgets for installation or advocating for good contemporary practice, which may go against traditional mechanisms with steering groups. A good project manager should serve the project, its aims and a quality outcome. Therefore they may have to push for a better deal for the artist in the interests of the project as a whole.

Do I need a professional project manager?

This really depends upon the track record and skills currently within your organisation, the time you have to devote to project management and the scale and complexity of the development.

This information sheet is designed to take you through the actions and aspects of managing a public art project. You may decide, after reading through the roles and responsibilities contained within this paper, that you cannot afford not to appoint a professional.

Public Art Online holds a register of public art consultants many of whom undertake project management. Otherwise you can advertise through ‘arts jobs’ Arts Council England’s free on-line resource at www.artsjobs.org.uk, or through a-n magazine (www.a-n.co.uk) and through other arts and local media.

Practicalities: a sample project management timetable from start to finish

Stage one

  1. Ensure the steering group are the best group to become the commissioning panel. Research and recommend others if appropriate.
  2. ‘Agree your role, the jurisdiction of your role, reporting mechanisms, who you will be managed by and your own contract. Ensure that you have agreed and that you hold appropriate insurance to cover your work. This may involve professional indemnity insurance. (Please see Public Art Online’s specialist papers and advice on insurance in the ‘practical advice’ section on this site and listed under ‘further reading’ at the close of this paper, and note that the insurance and contract advice is copyrighted to Henry Lydiate.)’
  3. Undertake any research needed to complete the artist's brief, drawing on any corporate reports, aspirations for the project as a whole, other good practice.
  4. Agree the budget for the scheme. Make a notional breakdown of recruitment costs including shortlisted artists' fees, the main commissioning fee, any technical fees, consultation costs, installation and site preparation, planning permission fees, documentation launch and maintenance.
  5. Undertake any necessary advocacy and presentations about the commission.
  6. Ensure you meet and engage with the commissioners and their representatives: this may include contractors, project managers or elected members, as well as community interests.
  7. Get an outline contract agreed now for the artist.
  8. Set out a PR and marketing campaign preferably in hand with any PR officers within the commissioners.
  9. Agree the criteria for shortlisting, selection and protocol.
  10. Set out and get the broad project timetable agreed including recruitment, getting any permissions, site preparation or weather issues, contract issues including insurance needs.
  11. Put together a pack for shortlisted candidates, if appropriate.

Stage two

  1. Undertake recruitment. This may be approaching a long list, which you have sourced with a brief and a selection procedure. This may involve advertising in appropriate and/or specialist publications and websites. You will usually be the point of contact for prospective artists. The selection process will usually involve a shortlisting process where the selection panel will choose a shortlist of, say, three candidates according to agreed criteria. Each of the shortlisting candidates will be offered a small fee to develop and present ideas to the panel. You will have to inform all candidates, arrange the return of work, and arrange the shortlisting fees.
  2. Arrange a site visit for the shortlist with appropriate technical and other representatives of the commissioner.
  3. Begin the PR campaign.
  4. Arrange and manage the presentation of the shortlisted artists including technical needs. Follow up on anything arising.
  5. Now the selection has been made, you can think about what technical and other specialists you may want to consult or put in touch with the artist.
  6. Negotiate the contract and the payment breakdown with the commissioned artist.
  7. Agree milestones and reporting points with the artist.
  8. Agree and arrange/co-ordinate a consultation programme with the artist, or with parallel artists.
  9. Think now about insurances, maintenance and decommissioning issues, applying for planning permission, if you will need structural engineers, lighting specialist, access and health and safety audits or others. All of these should go into the contract. They may sound daunting but the contract should be a clear and useful project management tool. Best to think about these issues now.
  10. If the artist is to present final design ideas then this must be arranged and co-ordinated. Ensure that the artist provides a fully costed schedule of sub-contractor and maintenance requirements for the eventual commission. Has the artist been required to document the process? Ensure that this is being kept up and find meaningful ways of disseminating the information.
  11. There is usually a half way stage payment. Use this to ensure that both the commissioner and the artist are happy and broadly keeping to the set milestones. If there are delays, issues or difficulties it is your job to broker solutions and offer flexible ways of delivering a successful outcome for everyone.

Stage three

  1. Ensure that the site is ready and any preparatory, foundation work etc. is done and that the contractors are briefed and content.
  2. Ensure that the artist and their sub contractors hold adequate insurances to work on site if appropriate.
  3. Check installation procedures and timetables.
  4. Ensure PR coverage.
  5. Make sure the artist is briefed and in agreement.
  6. Hold stakeholder/community meetings or presentations by the artist to prepare for the installation.
  7. Get final agreements and permissions from all necessary parties.
  8. Co-ordinate the installation including health and safety issues.
  9. Arrange documentation.
  10. Co-ordinate and manage the launch.
  11. Ensure that the maintenance schedule is in place and that those with responsibility are briefed and agreed as to their responsibilities.
  12. Undertake evaluation and monitoring procedures.
  13. Do not gauge local community opinion too soon after installation. A piece will often take time to be owned by its community.

Essential and desirable: the person spec for a project manager

The project manager, like the artist, a landscape architect, or a lighting designer should be viewed as a skilled and experienced professional who is being paid for their expertise and knowledge.

Essentially the role is one of advocate, broker, negotiator and matchmaker, but a good project manager is also a strategic thinker who can take decisions, thrive on the unexpected and manage complex, overlapping priorities.

A good project manager must understand current good practice and thinking in their field, extending to urban design and regeneration, and must be aware of the constraints of the commission while advocating for visionary thinking and the best contemporary practice.

A good project manager is a diplomat and a ‘people person’, who does not desire to be in the spotlight. A team player who is confident of their own skills and can act on initiative. Someone who has excellent presentation and time management skills and is great at crisis management.

Further reading

Other practical advice sheets on the site include:

Guidelines for commissioning and selecting artists and craftspeople
Commissioning Guidelines by Modus Operandi
Be Prepared! Decommissioning Public Art by Hazel Colquhoun
Decommissioning Public Art: A Policy for East Kent Local Authorities
Artists in the public realm: Health and Safety by Emma Larkinson
Artist's Public Liability Insurancy by Henry Lydiate

© Diana Hatton and Public Art South West

October 2008