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Public Statues and Sculpture Association

Commissioning and Erecting Public Sculpture

These relatively jargon-free guidelines are not intended to be exhaustive, but to offer some assistance to those people or groups who are considering erecting a permanent public sculpture. They are particularly aimed at community groups and local campaigns wanting to commemorate people or erect a sculpture appropriate to their area, and at larger national campaigns focusing on a person or theme they wish to celebrate. The guidelines may also be helpful for early career sculptors and those less experienced in creating public sculpture.

The process of commissioning a public sculpture can be daunting. It will require careful planning and consultation. Above all, it is important to be realistic about your objectives, particularly the procedures, costs and timing. Your project will almost certainly take some years to bring to conclusion.

While the PSSA is keen to offer support, and advise, we cannot accept liability or be held responsible for any problems, losses or unfortunate events which occur as a result of these guidelines.

1.  Getting started

Form a committee – personnel:  chair, secretary, treasurer, a person to run social media and publicity. It is important to involve anyone directly related to the subject of the project, and so if it is to be a portrait statue you should perhaps involve a member of the subject’s family; if a sportsman, enlist a person with a high profile in the sports world etc. It is also advisable to have an arts professional on your committee who can guide judgement about the aesthetic quality of the work proposed and its practical feasibility.

It will probably make sense to form a registered charity, so that when individuals make donations you will be able to claim 25% extra on their donation as Gift Aid from HMRC without any cost to the donor.

If you are commissioning a public sculpture, consider hiring an arts professional as project manager to guide you through the process, or if you have the time, energy, confidence and limited budget, you may prefer to appoint a member of your own committee as the project manager to take the project forward yourselves.

Hiring an arts professional to assist

Almost certainly you will need to pay this person, therefore include their fee in your budget (see section 8 below). Their role would include:

  • Guiding the project on artistic and technical matters and on costs.
  • Helping to approach artists, the selection process, deciding on selection criteria, writing and circulating the sculptor’s brief, sitting on the selection panel and assessing sculptors’ submissions and their requisite experience.
  • Advising on a realistic budget for the project and for the sculptor.
  • Assessing whether a proposal is realistic within the agreed budgets.
  • Assessing whether the ideas are technically feasible.
  • Liaising between the commissioning committee and the sculptor.

For further information see Modus Operandi.

What is the committee’s vision?

 Figurative statue or an abstract work, traditional or contemporary? Make sure your committee are all on the same page before launching your ideas for the project to the outside world. Think about the scale of the sculpture relative to surrounding buildings and of course to budget.

 

2.  Materials

 What will the material be? What type of finish should the surface have? If it is to be bronze what colour surface finish, known as patina, would be most suitable? The quality of materials and how well the work is made are important considerations. Many of those commissioning sculpture, and even sometimes the sculptors themselves, are tempted to cut corners on cost by economising on the quality of materials and finishes, but this will potentially lead to structural problems later and higher maintenance costs going forward.  See Maintenance section 14 below.

3.  Plinth, base or at ground level?

Will the sculpture need a plinth or base or stand directly on the ground? Will the plinth or base be of a traditional nature, or raised off the ground and displayed in a different way? For example, the subject could be sitting on a bench where members of the public can join them, or the base could have a special significance for the subject such as the immigrants standing on suitcases in Basil Watson’s National Windrush Monument at Waterloo Station, or the statue of  the Garden City planner, Sir Ebenezer Howard by Ben Twiston-Davies on a raised grass bank at Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire, or Rise up, women, Hazel Reeves’s statue of Emmeline Pankhurst standing on a chair to address her suffragette supporters in St Peter’s Square, Manchester.

You can also consider having an inscription engraved in stone, perhaps slate, around the sculpture, as for example, on Martin Jennings’s statue of the poet, John Betjeman at St Pancras International Station. Providing the name of the subject and quotations about them, or from their writings, can be most effective. Take care, however, to employ skilled letter-cutters. If not very well carved this type of inscription could detract from the work, rather than enhance it.

Martin Jennings,  John Betjeman, St Pancras Station, London (photo: Christoph Braun, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

4.  Location

Where will the work be sited? Think carefully about the location and placemaking, helping to create an area which will be attractive, which people will enjoy. Where will the sculpture stand out and enhance the environment? Can it be seen and approached from several angles? Do all these aspects work aesthetically?

Will its placement positively affect the local economy? The sculpture may become a magnet for visitors and so this might result in additional parking, cafés and erosion of existing paths.

The natural environment can pose a challenge to the sculpture’s longevity: for example, if it is sited under trees, where debris may fall; near the sea, where salt in the air can corrode metal; or in a grassy area where it could be damaged by lawnmowers and sprinklers. In a more urban environment could sculptures and their bases  be damaged by skateboards? If so, skateboard protection may need to be added.

Think about public access; will everyone be able to reach it and see it properly?  Considering access for disabled people is particularly important.

 

5.  Planning permission

You will need to ascertain who owns the land where you would like to erect the sculpture. It might be owned by the local council or another public owner. Plan your project carefully, taking time to get it right. It is advisable to allow over a year for this part of the process.

Once you have identified the site for your sculpture, you will need to obtain outline planning permission from the Planning Department at the local council. It is sensible to contact the council about planning permission quite early in the process, because you will need to address any problems raised, conditions or suggestions made before progressing the project. Checks have to be made by contractors to ensure you will not be erecting the sculpture on top of electric cables, drains etc. Always proceed with caution when digging up sites.

Involve the council in your project as much as possible. You may like to invite a councillor to join your committee. Also notify your MP; their support can be most helpful. Your application for full planning permission should be made only once you have a finished design/model from the sculptor.

 

6.  Launching a campaign

It is important to do this at the right stage of the process, once the basics noted above are in place. Set up a website for the project and use different social media platforms to promote the campaign, since its power and reach is enormous.

Public involvement can influence the design of the sculpture. Effective consultation can be crucial and can help you gain funding too, especially if you are applying for public grants.

Make sure any public consultation you arrange is effective; use well-tested methods to conduct surveys.

 

7.  Financing the project

Do not underestimate the length of time this might take. It is a common assumption that fundraising will be easier than it is. You will most likely need to be thinking in years rather than months.

Be fair and realistic about costs. Probably the committee will be contributing their time and efforts free of charge, but the professionals required to realize your project, while they may be most enthusiastic about it, will still need to be paid appropriately. Remember sculptors need to be paid for their work during the application and commissioning part of the project.

Grants, corporate (sometimes it is possible to find a corporate body to match the funding you raise), private donations, crowdfunding, a Just Giving page or its equivalent can be effective in raising funds.

Once a design has been decided upon and a maquette (model) made, you could consider making an arrangement with the sculptor to sell limited edition bronze casts of a maquette of the work to raise money for the project. If you decide on this, it is important that the proceeds are split between the campaign and the sculptor in a way in which the sculptor, who is the creator of the work, regards as acceptable and fair. If this arrangement is agreed, a contract between both parties should be drawn up.

Another idea is to arrange for the maquette to tour around the country and be put on display in order to stimulate public interest and raise funds for the campaign.

Remember most bank and savings accounts only guarantee loss of your money up to £85,000. You may well need to raise rather more than this and so you should take care not to invest all the funds in the same place.

If you have formed a registered charity and your campaign raises more that £25,000 in the year of its accounts, the committee will need to arrange an Independent Examination in accordance with the rules of the Charity Commission.

Don’t forget about the uplift you can have on donations by claiming Gift Aid (see section 1 above).

 

8.  Your Budget

Make sure you carefully estimate how much money is required for each stage of the project, including upkeep once the work has been installed.

Ensure you make adequate estimates for the costs of the sculptor, materials, any transport required and for the installation.

Don’t forget additional costs such as fees for insurance, consultation, and for legal work and always allow a generous contingency for unforeseen expenses (5-10%).

Most artists are not VAT registered, and so it is important to ensure that suppliers are asked to quote inclusive of VAT.

 

9.  Section 106 (Town and Country Planning Act 1990)

This involves a legal agreement between those having an interest in the land (usually the developer) and the local planning department of the council. S106 contributions for public art are received by the council from developers. Public sculpture funded in this way must comply with quality, access, inclusion and sustainability. It should also be innovative, site sensitive and have a lasting legacy. The PSSA recommends that all these issues are considered when commissioning public sculpture whether funded by S106 or otherwise. An individual cannot apply for S106 funds for public sculpture; the application needs to come from an official group or an organization with a bank account. To apply for this grant for public sculpture you should partner with a professional artist. Consultation with the local community is vital, so that there is a consensus about the type of sculpture erected and its subject matter. It is possible that the money granted will be insufficient for a work of good, lasting materials and aesthetic quality. Consideration therefore should be given as to how additional funding can be raised (see above) and what it is realistic to plan for. You may need to show that you have the additional funds already in place. Maintenance costs of the sculpture will not be included in the S106 grant.

 

10.  Selecting a sculptor

You could run a competition for the best design or ask just one, or a few, selected sculptors to submit a design. Making a maquette (model) is expensive and time consuming for sculptors and so initially asking for drawings would be preferable.

If you decide to ask sculptors to submit maquettes to a competition you should pay each of them a fee that reflects the number of weeks they are likely to spend working on this.

Potential places to source your sculptor: the Royal Society of Sculptors (RSS); Society of Portrait Sculptors; the PSSA Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture shortlists.

Look carefully at the different styles of the sculptors’ work. Discuss which style of work would best suit your concept.

You may decide to have an open call for a sculptor. Try to advertise the project widely and be as inclusive as possible so that the opportunity to respond to the commissions reaches sculptors from diverse backgrounds, and early career sculptors as well as established artists.

Write a brief for the potential sculptor

This should be written clearly providing all the information a sculptor is likely to need so that they can decide whether to apply for a commission.

It is essential to include:

  • A description of the project, its background and objectives
  • The sculptor’s role
  • The position with funding the project. Has it been fully achieved or is it in process, if the latter what stage has been reached and how will the shortfall be met?
  • Does the site have outline planning permission?
  • Who makes the decisions about the project?
  • Is a public art expert involved in the commissioning group and the selection panel?
  • What is the outline budget to which the sculptor should work?
  • Are there funds to support mentoring the sculptor (they may not have experience of producing large public sculpture)?
  • What are the criteria for selection of the sculptor?
  • The sculptor must have professional insurance, with public liability as a minimum, in place.
  • If community engagement is required confirm it will be funded and the sculptor paid for their participation. If the committee decides to involve the community then some of the resulting ideas from workshops could be incorporated into the sculpture.
  • The position regarding copyright and the sculptor’s intellectual property (see below).

For further details see publicartonline.

 

Intellectual property in the sculpture is vested in the artist, but at the point that ownership is transferred to the client, the artist is deemed to grant the project the right to use the sculpture (i.e. that particular bronze or stone and plinth etc.) and any images of it for any purpose that the project may require. However, the client does not have the right to make replicas or in the case of bronzes cast an edition (exact copies from a mould of the work, which are usually numbered).

Contracts

The sculptor usually draws up the contract. Some legal firms will draw up contracts for sculptors on a pro bono basis.

 

11.  Timing

Allow sufficient time for each stage of the project; preparation is all important. Be sure to allow time for discussion, possible public consultation, the design and drawing stage, maquettes (models) to be made and the work carved, cast etc. This last stage again takes more time than you probably realize. To cast a full-size bronze figure, for example, can take a foundry around four months. If you are working to completion on an anniversary/deadline you are likely to need to commission your sculptor at least two years ahead. Few established sculptors can complete a large project from scratch within only one year.

 

12.  Bronzes and the Foundry

The Society of Portrait Sculptors has excellent guidelines about dealing with foundries which are intended as reference for sculptors, but if you are commissioning a bronze, we recommend you also to read them so that you fully understand the process (see https://www.portrait-sculpture.org/dealing-with-foundries.)

The sculptor’s process is lengthy and fraught with risk, and therefore can be costly, which is often not appreciated by those commissioning work. Bronze sculpture, for example, requires a design stage usually involving a maquette (model. The scaling up of this model is a lengthy process involving building a metal armature (support) to size.  Figurative sculpture will require sittings with the subject or a live model. The unclothed figure is modelled in clay, which is followed by the sculpting of the clothing. Moulds are taken of the clay sculpture, often the foundry does this. Then there is further work for the sculptor on the metal and patina at the foundry. Once the sculpture is complete the sculptor is still closely involved in liaising with any structural engineers and supervising those installing the work.

To create a realistic budget for a bronze sculpture you may need guidance from a professional who works with foundries to give a realistic budget and who can scrutinize sculptors’ proposals to ensure they are financially and technically feasible.

 

13.  Installation

This can be an expensive process; make sure there is sufficient money set aside for this in the budget. A professional company will need to install the work in collaboration with the sculptor.  Ensure there is good access for lifting equipment or lorries and possibly a crane. Security fixings will be needed to prevent theft. If the sculpture has a base, ensure that is ready/in place before the sculpture itself is installed. The sculptor will be expected to provide RAMS (Risk Assessment and Method Statement) to the owner of the land before installation.

Structural engineer

What size and how awkward is the work you are intending to install? You may need to employ a structural engineer to advise, who will also be able to specify the required foundation, which should not be reinforced with metal bars, because it will need to be drilled to take the sculpture’s security fixings, which should be of Grade 316 stainless steel. If you are installing a heavy bronze, the foundry will probably be subcontracted by the artist to do this and to arrange transport, supply RAMS etc.

 

14.  Maintenance

Who will own the sculpture and who will be responsible for its maintenance?  Ensure a plan for both is in place.

Maintenance ought to be part of the commissioning and thought process when creating a public sculpture, but often isn’t considered until the sculpture looks as though it needs attention. Annual maintenance is advisable as a minimum, however, there is no golden rule to establishing frequency of treatment, which is best assessed by regular visual inspection. It is important that public sculpture is kept in good condition and maintenance is undertaken routinely. If there is any concern about the condition of a sculpture’s surface, structural issues or the materials to be used for maintenance, then advice should be sought from an experienced sculpture conservator. Small amounts of funding may need to be raised annually for this. To avoid the continuing burden of arranging this, clients often donate the finished work to the local authority or owner of the land. That body then becomes responsible for maintenance.

Bronzes

Bronze sculptures are usually chemically patinated by the foundry to produce an artificially coloured surface patina. This is generally protected with a coating of wax.

Occasionally varnishes, or sometimes a combination of both varnish and wax, form the coating. Care of polished, painted, and particularly lacquered polished bronzes require different treatment. Left unprotected by a surface coating, bronze will start to oxidise: first to brown and then to green as seen on many sculptures which have not been maintained. The capacity of thin wax and varnish coatings to protect the bronze from corrosion is greatly affected by the environmental conditions of the sculpture. Some bronze sculptures have coloured waxes or lacquers applied as part of their original finish, which are designed to visually enhance the sculpture as well as provide protection and consequently these need to be protected and retained. A patinated and waxed sculpture should be maintained by adopting a simple washing and re-waxing procedure annually.

Marble and stone

Regions with high rainfall, where the temperatures regularly drop below freezing or where pollution levels are high are the most damaging to stone and in particular marble.

Ferrous metals

Apart from some cast iron, or steel specifically designed to rust such as Corten steel, ferrous metals need to be protected by a surface coating, which is usually paint, to prevent rusting. If these coatings are not applied or are poorly maintained, then quite rapid and destructive corrosion will ensue. Corrosion of iron and steel is accelerated if water remains in contact with the surface for prolonged periods or if the design of a structure traps water preventing drying. If iron corrosion is allowed to continue this usually results in loss of surface finish and possible structural failure.

Polished metals, with the exception of stainless steel, will normally have been varnished or lacquered to prevent oxidation. The protective ability of these coatings depends on their quality, the preparation of the surface prior to application and the thoroughness of the person undertaking the work. These coatings are thin and hard, and are vulnerable to damage especially by abrasion and extreme temperature fluctuations.

Environmental Factors

The following can detrimentally affect sculpture and its protective surface coatings:

  • Excessive rainfall
  • Acid rain
  • High humidity
  • Extreme temperature fluctuations
  • Wind-blown abrasive particles such as dust or sand causing erosion
  • High salt levels in coastal regions where corrosive saline aerosols can affect surfaces
  • High levels of pollutant gases or particulates
  • Organic growth such as algae and moss
  • Tree sap
  • Bird guano
  • Microclimates created by inappropriate protective covers
  • Garden water sprinklers, where dissolved salts in the water can form deposits on surfaces.
  • Inappropriate surface treatments.

 

15.  Unveiling

This is your opportunity to reap the rewards of your hard work. Find a dignitary or prominent person to unveil the sculpture. Make sure you invite everyone who has helped or been involved so they can help you celebrate your achievement. Write a press release. Invite the local and national press. The BBC often covers the unveiling of public statues so make sure you inform your local BBC news desk. Announce the unveiling on social media several times. Tag in the PSSA so that we help promote the unveiling too.

 

16.  Longevity and legacy

Exhibitions, films, books and articles — think about how you can document the project and ensure information about it will be available in the future. A film documenting the different stages of the project would be a good record as well.

Consider putting up a label about the work nearby explaining what it is, why it is there and who was involved, not forgetting to credit the sculptor! You can add a QR code too, linking to a website with further information, newspaper or academic articles, books and videos so that the visitor can learn more about the sculpture. Think carefully about where you position the label so that is close enough to be seen, but doesn’t interfere with the impact of the sculpture.

And finally, when your public sculpture had been installed and unveiled, nominate it for the PSSA Marsh Award for Excellence in Public Sculpture. We look forward to visiting it.

Acknowledgements

The PSSA would like to thank all those who have so kindly contributed to these guidelines. In particular, we are most grateful to Rupert Harris and Wil Roberts at Rupert Harris Conservation, Martin Jennings FRSS, Hazel Reeves MRSS,SWA, Andrew Simcock and Matt Nation at Taylor Pearce Ltd who have been most generous in providing information and giving advice.