Question for you and your team

  • Do we have, or do we need, a wider commissioning strategy? How does this intersect with existing organisational policies? (see section on Policy and Best Practice for more info)
  • How is the commission going to be funded? If patrons or external funders are involved, what are the relationships which need to be managed or mediated?
  • Is this a joint or partnership project?
  • Who needs to be involved with the commissioning process?
  • What are the potential staff benefits, or areas of learning?
  • What is the framework for evaluation, reflection and learning, and are there budget considerations around this work?
  • How do I make sure the process meets Fair Work principles?
  • How do I set the timescale?
  • How do I decide pay scales and pay cycles? Are there set scales within our organisation?
  • How are relationships safeguarded through the commission process, including consideration of staff consistency, communication methods and ethical treatment of the artist?
  • Does the commission intersect with an existing aspect of the collection? If so, can this be accessible or made available as a research tool?
  • Is the commission permanent or temporary? (There will be further considerations around this such as sustainability, partnership implications, conservation impacts, recoupment of investment etc.)
  • Is this a commission which will be subsequently acquired for the collection?
  • What are the considerations for maintenance and ongoing care?
  • Is there a potential for the work to be de-commissioned? If so, how is this process managed?

It is important to note that not every commissioned artwork will be acquired into a collection.

Keeping an artwork after a commission period can become a burden for the artist and it also limits the potential exposure time for the work.

The organisation should work with the artist to develop a plan for the afterlife of the artwork, considering storage, future exhibition, selling etc.  There should be discussions around, and acknowledgement of, the other options if it isn’t acquired by the commissioning organisation, alongside agreements around what responsibility the commissioner has towards the artwork if not acquiring.  Can it go to another organisation, and if so, what are the practical and financial implications of this?

Discussions should sit alongside agreements around what responsibility the commissioner has towards the artwork if not acquiring into a collection.

At the University of Edinburgh commissioning is understood as a practice that involves the engaging of an artist in the production of a new work of art through a range of materials, processes and possibilities.

Commissioning a new work of art is an activity and process which can be employed across a range of contexts, for example, inviting an artist to make something in response to an exhibition theme or space, a physical site or area of the built environment, in conjunction with academic research, in line with existing collection holdings, or in response to a commemorative or celebratory moment.

Ownership of proposals and subsequent artworks produced always resides with the artist unless a secondary agreement is made with the artist to purchase the work for a separate fee. This is the case in any engagement, unless there is a specific and explicit agreement around the purchase of an artwork, or proposal agreed at the outset of a project or commission.


When planning and allocating budgets it is acknowledged that every group or organisation will have a different approach to budgeting both for and within projects.  Bring your own organisation’s experience and process to the table and follow guidelines if you already have these in place.

It is good practice to commit budget to the periods before, during and after the artwork is commissioned. The list below outlines some of the areas that might need financial consideration but the context of the project will ultimately shape the budget.  For example, if the work was produced for a temporary exhibition, consideration should be given to the return or storage of artwork after its presentation.  Or, display may not be the primary focus of a commission so long-term storage considerations might be need to be discussed.

It is prudent to also include budget to bring the artist back at a later date to discuss their artwork, whether this be to accommodate discussion on artwork changes, it’s inclusion into the collection, or ideas around what next after exhibition.  Budget allocation may be required over a number of financial years to accommodate these ongoing costs, so it is worth remembering to include all relevant staff in budget discussions.

In the University of Edinburgh commissioning guidelines, it is suggested that project budgets should be calculated to consider and include the following:

  • Selection panel fees
  • Artist fees (including for proposals, time, production, acquisition etc.)
  • Any in-kind contribution
  • Other professional fees, such as Engineer Consultancy
  • Hospitality, which may include subsistence costs, and launch event
  • Material, equipment, and production costs
  • Transport and installation costs
  • Administration
  • Access requirements
  • Documentation and publicity (print and digital)
  • Maintenance
  • Insurance
  • Security
  • Storage
  • Contingencies
  • VAT


Questions for you and your team

  • Do we need to confirm pay for the artist from budgets across different departments?
  • What are the best payment cycles and processes for the organisation, and does this suit the artist’s needs?
  • Are our rates of pay agreeable with the artist’s expectations? (artists rates may need to be recalculated against set pay grades within the organisation)

Confirmed patterns and regularity in paying artists is important to outline early in the budgeting process. Consideration should be given to what works for the organisation and the budget and remember that artists may have different needs and patterns that you must consider.

Be mindful of payment thresholds, Tax status, whether an artist receives benefits, for example. These factors may have influence on payment methods, timeframes and the level of tangible support the funding provides.

An important part of work on payments at University of Edinburgh has been advocating for a wider acknowledgement that different parts of the same project will require different payments and / or have a separate cost.  i.e., there is a specific cost to commissioning an artwork, and there is a separate cost to acquiring that artwork, while supporting the development of a research folio or publication around that artwork has another separately budgeted cost. Ongoing potential costs may include returning to the artist for additional information, e.g., display consultation, or conservation queries.

Method and approach to payment is also considered to ensure alignment with the collection development principles and ambitions. For instance, making a commitment to buying from the primary market i.e. via the artist and their gallery to ensure direct support, as opposed to purchasing at auction.  We take lead from, and direct colleagues to, the Scottish Artist Union’s Rates to calculate project budgets and fees.

It is important to factor in upfront and/or staggered payment schedules so that the artist is not out of pocket when delivering any work.


Questions for you and your team

  • Do we have a standard template within our organisation that we can use or develop?
  • Does the contract need legal oversight or guidance?
  • Who is responsible in our organisation for developing, issuing and signing the contract? (How will they interact with the commission and artist?)
  • What information should the contract include?

Artists and creative freelancers are not always covered by employment law, so it is important to have a written agreement between parties. Agreements should cover the terms and nature of the work, including the timeframe for the project, a clear payment schedule, and an outline of expectations related to copyright, crediting, communications and marketing.

Artists may provide their own template contracts that you can adapt to the needs of both parties. However, do not expect artists to have a template contract or access to legal resource.  It is good practice to have a template contract that you can tailor to each individual situation, and consideration towards additional funding to assist the artist with obtaining independent legal or HR advice may be required.

In institutions where budgets have restrictions on how finances can be used, contracts are important for auditing purposes. If you are not able to develop or issue a formal contract, a letter of engagement can be used instead. A letter of engagement provides a written record of terms of the project without the formal legalese. It could include the following:

  • Names and contact details of the parties involved
  • description of the work or project
  • the anticipated schedule including deadlines
  • fee and payment structures or terms
  • any relevant terms for installation/de-installation – for example maintenance and sustainability considerations
  • rights and crediting information
  • Signatures
  • Access needs, requirements and practice principles of the artist – commonly referenced as an Access Rider



It is helpful to talk through the contract details with the artist.  Providing the template to the artist in advance of this discussion with any explanatory notes might help provide context for certain clauses. Allowing the artist time to read through the draft, seek advice or formulate any questions before meeting to discuss it further is recommended.

Future ambitions within the University of Edinburgh Art Collection include supporting artists with additional funds to access external HR and legal advice to assist with the review of contract paperwork, in acknowledgment of the asymmetry of resource and power in the commissioning engagement.


Questions for you and your team

  • Are we a collecting institution acquiring the commissioned artwork? (Considerations include budget distribution across production and acquisition, material considerations and certain forms of documentation)
  • How do we define the terms of ownership?
  • Is the work an outright purchase, a copy or an edition of the work?

For collecting institutions, where acquisition of a work is also part of the planned relationship with the artist, an additional part of any contract or agreement will be a section on acquisition terms. This is where terms of ownership need to be clearly outlined.

The University of Edinburgh Art Collection perspective on ownership is driven by a desire to enable artists to benefit economically from their work, by not imposing restrictive commission and sale conditions, e.g., through limiting edition sizes and the removal of intellectual property rights. This is driven in part by context – acquisitions are primarily for internal use – as well as an acknowledgment of the economic situation of most artists.

While it might be agreed that the ownership of work or a copy /edition of the work and associated materials be transferred to the collecting institution, it is important to note that it is best practice to exclude the exchange of moral rights.

Perhaps the agreement outlines that the collecting institution has a license to use the work in specific circumstances or maybe documentation or research materials are all that enter the collection. Whatever the decision, it needs to be clearly stated so that there is no future confusion about the terms of the acquisition.

Resources and staffing

Questions for you and your team

  • Which staff in our organisation are involved with the process of commissioning? Can this be expanded to provide opportunity for development?
  • Is there a risk to the commission, and the relationship with the artist, if staff leave?
  • Who are the internal advocates? How can their voices be used?
  • Are there any external networks or peers who can advise or support?
  • Can the organisational workforce be expanded or diversified through the commission?
  • What is or is not included in the budget?

Resources and staffing needs and availabilities may change at different stages of the process.  This should be revisited and updated at the following stages:

  • Commission
  • Installation
  • Exhibition
  • Maintenance
  • Conservation
  • Promotion
  • Documentation
  • Outreach and engagement


Other things that may not be included in the budget, but should be considered to ensure continuity for the artist and for the organisation are: 

  • Future proofing plans for staffing and resource changes could be considered at the start of the commissioning process to ensure no issues arise later.
  • Nominating a secondary staff member as contact in the event of absence or departure of the primary staff contact, from the organisation or department / project.

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