Commissions can provide opportunities to make new work and to have your work presented publicly through festivals, commissioning organisations or art institutions. Commissioning opportunities, however, are harder to come by. You will need to apply for opportunities or to have an established practice where organisations and festivals can approach you to develop new work. Seek out commissioning opportunities by talking to festival organisers. Get recommendations from people you have worked with on previous projects. Commissions allow you more creative freedom. Be clear about contract agreements and the ownership of the work after the project is completed. When submitting a proposal, include a fee for yourself within the production budget and be realistic about the costs. There are numerous organisations that will support and commission projects. Many opportunities are not widely advertised. Finding appropriate opportunities for your work often requires research and networking.
Commissions North was established within Arts Council England, North East in 1999 to support public art commissioning within capital and regeneration projects. Their website has a Guidelines section, with step-by-step advice and information to help you through the commissioning process.
Words of Advice
Most of my commissions came through recommendations, and in a few cases, through competition, as in the case of my first opera The Original Chinese Conjuror, for the 2006 Aldeburgh/Almeida Festival, which started life as one of the six chosen projects in the Genesis Opera Project 2.
– Raymond Yiu, Composer
Commissions are can be either through a not-for-profit organisation such as Generator Projects or S1 Artspace, who give you a bit of money to make a new work and show it. That is the best kind of commission. An individual can also commission you to make work for their collection. That's a little more complicated because the politics of their expectations come into play.
– Haroon Mirza, Artist
Case Studies: How Do You Make a Living?
Neil Luck: Commissions and Teaching
I support my practice through lots of different avenues. I take on some commissioned composing work if the project is interesting, but I try and keep this balanced with my own completely independent things. I also run public and outreach projects with non-professionals. I try to make my work as closely related to my interests as an artist as possible, and so it’s very much an extension of my own practice. I also teach at a university.
I think the most interesting work for me has been where I’ve created an opportunity rather than finding it; being able to see an idea through from start to finish. Setting up ARCO has helped with this. In general, I’ve found that surrounding myself with sympathetic musicians, artists, and performers has helped enormously in being able to realise whatever ideas I may have.
With fellow composers Federico Reuben and Adam de la Cour, I recently co-founded artist-led cooperative Squib-box, which aims to foster this kind of community through recorded releases and live events. I think living and working in London might always have to be a balancing act between doing what you want and making enough money to live, but as a general rule I try to make sure I’m writing every day and always have a mix of big, long-term projects, as well as smaller, more immediate things on the go.
After I left education I felt pretty unsure of what to do, so I got involved in a lot of different projects, and tried a lot of different work avenues too, developing an idea of what I was actually interested in. I ended up doing some very worthwhile things and some pointless things, but slowly I’m finding a good balance. I send a lot of emails to people I want to connect with.
Raymond Yiu: Commissions and Arts Admin
Until recently, my musical career was supported by my IT career; I was really burning the candle at both ends. Commissions are a nice way of support myself, but they are hard to come by. So I teach jazz piano, and write articles on musical subjects, and I'm looking into doing other things music-related. One of the fields of work that I am particularly interested in is artistic directorship. Since I joined GSMD, I have been co-running the Society of New Music and help organising new music events, including the New Music Festival in July.
Haroon Mirza: Sales and Commissions
Until very recently I subsidised my practice by doing web design for artists and galleries. DJing and working in restaurants has also kept me afloat in the past. I’ve had the odd grant from the Arts Council, but they seem to be harder to get now. My work is just about able to sustain itself through sales, commissions and exhibition fees.