I submitted a proposal for a public art commission a few months ago. I got really excited about it. It seemed like a perfect fit for my work. I poured my heart into my proposal.
A friend who was familiar with the venue vetted my ideas. She thought it was a good proposal. She warned me, though, the competition for this particular venue would be tough.
Sure enough, I didn’t get it.
I’ve been thinking about the process, though. I realize that in many ways, I won. I learned good stuff along the way:
1) It’s good to be ready.
It’s a lot of work to submit a proposal. This one came up fast, too. I found out about it less than a week before the deadline.
Fortunately, I have tons of slides and digital images of my work. I have artist statements ready. I have reprints on hand of my publicity.
I was able to pull my proposal together in a couple of days.
2) I work well with guidelines.
I liked the idea of the commission–enough structure so I didn’t have to start from scratch, enough leeway to come up with an extremely original design. I liked having guidelines I could challenge and stretch ever so slightly, too. My proposal would have asked people to step just outside their normal expectations of an “art quilt”. And it would have encouraged them to think about the national park in a slightly different, more intimate way.
3) I play well with metaphors.
My friend said the metaphors I provided in my proposal–balancing the “big grand feature” of the park with the smaller intimate moments that are just as important to those familiar with the park–was perfect. It’s nice to know I “got” that when I read the project guidelines and thought of ways to connect my work with them.
4) I learned what could give me an edge in future proposals.
(Hint: Especially in areas of limited opportunities for artists, they might prefer to award these proposals to local or regional artists.)
5) I think I’d like to do more.
This had a different “feel” than many other promotional and sales opportunities for my work. I realized I liked everything about it: The potential for “winning” the commission. Having a big chunk of time (and money!) to devote to it. Having to make ONE THING instead of an ongoing body of work (for an exhibit or a gallery, for example.) The start-and-finish aspect. The idea that thousands of people from all over the country–and the world–would see my work.
I realized I’d like to submit more such proposals!
6) The parts that were hard are the places I need more work.
I realized I would need to finally master my new big-format sewing machine in order to create the pieces. So I need to get going on that, if I want to make those bigger works.
7) I found the passion in my work again.
It was challenging but fun to put together the proposal. And I found myself excited by the idea I proposed.
I realized that the notion of my work having a home, BEFORE I even finished it, was exhilarating. It’s been hard finding the right way to market the fiber. So I often feel it’s hard to devote a lot of time to something that may not sell for several years (as opposed to filling orders for jewelry and sculpture, which need to be done NOW.)
Knowing I was working to make a piece for a specific place, a specific purpose, with enough guidelines to get started but enough creative leeway to be interesting, really fit the bill.
It’s funny sometimes, how much you can learn from losing!