A Commission Evolves

Creative Studio

Recently I went down to Hope House to see our latest commission. Everyone had told me that the photographs don’t do it justice, and they were right. It is stunning. It is one of those pieces that you can walk all the way round and you see so many different things. It also really works in its location.

My role at Designs in Mind is Social Business Manager, my background is not in visual arts and I don’t often get involved with the process of how a commission develops. As I was looking at it, I couldn’t figure out how it had come to be. I started to ask questions…

We wanted something striking that was great art but that also meant something. It had to be a collaboration, warm, uplifting and inviting

Kath Jones, Commissioner, Hope House Childrens Hospice

Chat with Jo Davis, Artistic Director, Designs in Mind

What comes first after you have had a meeting about a new commission?

I have to think over carefully how the commissioners ideas can be delivered within this context. Very often commissioners are quite open ended ‘we want something for this area’ or ‘that space.’ It will be up to us to come up with a concept. Members who are up for it can pitch in. It is a question of honing in on a concept that can be achieved in this context and can be broken down into design and making tasks, that allows as many people to become involved and at their own level. Members have to be able to work on a project in a meaningful way- this is the difficult thing. It is very different to commissioning an artist who may work on their own- there are 50 of us. It is not designing by committee exactly but looking at it in different chunks and having someone to take a birds eye view and look over the whole project.

Do you know at the start, what it will look like in the end?

Not always – in fact probably never! Because everything that starts out as an idea, changes all through the process of becoming an “object”. Or is radically changed by the context or space it finally ends up in.

How do you communicate to members about what they are working on and how it will look?

We talk about it, we think about process within the group. Often members are involved in workshops with the users of the building or space which will have the commission. This is a rich experience and through this members can get a real feel for the people and the building. Sometimes we do scale mock ups.

How do you feel during the making of a commission?

Often nervous – it’s a responsibility – Being sure that the piece will last, will be well made and that the installation will go well – we work in public buildings and open spaces – we have a reputation to protect. But we must be prepared to experiment and have the confidence to try new things.

How do you know when a commission has finished and you hand it over – what is the end – the process of the ending?

The ending is more about here- knowing that we have gone far enough, people have got out of it what they can and it works. We are very involved in the installation, we control the way a piece is hung or displayed (the importance of how a piece is installed or framed can be never be underestimated, it can make or break it’s impact). The official “end” is when we receive the final payment. Deadlines are important, more imposed by us than commissioners- we have to move on to the next project. In a way it doesn’t really end because a piece can change, it’s important to go and see how it looks after a year. We have had to do a few (very few) repairs!!

And now the process is just starting again…

Something that involves the residents and contains images that could trigger memories

David Coull, Commissioner, Coverage Care