How to...Commission Visual Art

Why commission a work of art?

The purpose of liturgical art is to point beyond itself, to deepen one’s understanding and worship of God. A congregation might commission a work of art

  • to help celebrate a special event or to mark a significant point in their faith journey.
  • to provide a visual reminder of the mission of a gathering place such as the narthex, fellowship hall, or church school lobby.
  • as an expression of congregational stewardship of the creative gifts of the people of God.

What kinds of art can be commissioned?

  • Bulletin covers, murals, drawings, sculpture or pieces of furniture, paintings, banners, vestments or stoles, paraments, pew or kneeling cushions, wall hangings.

How do we begin?

  • Start early. Begin well in advance of the date the work is to be presented to the congregation.
  • Form a supervising committee and determine a decision-making process before the work is begun. Who will have the authority to approve a design? (The pastor, the committee, the church council, or the congregation?) It is important to limit the number of people working directly with the artist but also to keep the larger congregation informed.
  • Write a brief mission statement concerning the use and purpose of the work to be commissioned. Be able to communicate clearly with the artist. Determine what symbols, colors, or visual motifs are important.
  • Consider the long-term implications of the commission—for example, whether the commissioned art is intended to have a permanent home in the church or is to be used for an occasion.

How do we find the artist?

  • Check to see if your denomination has a listing of artists.
  • Contact CIVA (Christians in the Visual Arts); 508-945-4026; www.civa.org.
  • Visit churches to view works of art and gather information about different artists.
  • Interview several artists. What themes are important to the artist? What theological considerations are important? Ask the artists to describe their working process.
  • Commission preliminary designs from several artists before making a final selection.

What can we expect from the artist?

  • Expect the artist to become familiar with the space in which the work is to be installed and with the worship and programmatic life of the congregation.
  • Expect the artist to provide information for the proper care of the work of art. How is it to be installed, lighted, cleaned, handled, transported, stored?

What about the cost?

  • Plan a budget for the commission.
  • A contract should clearly state the artist’s fee and a payment schedule.
  • Ask the artist for the costs and limitations involved in the production materials, including, for example, size of the work, type of medium, and manner of reproduction.
  • Don’t allow a modest budget to limit a community’s artistic aspirations. Not every worthy project requires a large amount of money—an artist can be engaged by several congregations to serve as a consultant in the design of projects fabricated by local volunteers.
  • A work of art already completed may be less expensive than a commissioned one.

When will it be ready?

  • In addition to specifying the fee and payment schedule, the contract should indicate dates for design approval, review of work in progress, and the date of completion.
  • Clarify who will have ownership of the copyright. Consider retaining copyright permission to photograph the piece, reproduce it, and sell copies for profit.

What if we don’t like it?

  • Give feedback to the artist throughout the production process, especially in the preliminary stages. Select a design that details size, colors, and materials. Major changes beyond this point are frustrating to the artist and damaging to the ultimate integrity of the artwork.
  • Don’t wait until the project is complete to decide that the piece just isn’t right for your church.

Giving it to God

  • When the work of art is complete, dedicate it to the glory of God when the community is gathered for worship, if possible, with the artist present.

Excerpt

Adapted from two brochures produced by the National Council of Churches—Worship & the Arts Commission in 1994: “When a Church wants to Commission a Work of Fabric Art,” and “When a Church Wants to Commission a Painting, a Mural, or Graphic Design.”