Minding Your RFPs And Qs

Posted by Elizabeth Keithline, Feb 12, 2013 5 comments

Elizabeth Keithline (Photo: Peter Goldberg) Elizabeth Keithline (Photo: Peter Goldberg)

When panelists review public art applications, they often view a wide range of artists and artworks. Some artists are quite experienced and others are applying for the first time. If you are new to the field, it is important to understand the difference between a Request For Proposals (RFP) and a Request For Qualifications (RFQ).

RFPs requires that you send a full project proposal. An artist will need to research the commission, (perform a site visit whenever possible), then submit a specific idea, including a full budget and information re: subcontractors, fabricators, and insurance. Unfortunately, artists are not typically paid for the proposed ideas unless they are chosen for the commission. This process is not considered best practice.

RFQs are a pre-qualifying round that requests images, resume, and sometimes a preliminary description of the type of work that you might create. This process operates under the premise that your background work qualifies you for round two finalist selection. Why would a commissioning agency waste your time generating a proposal, when your background experience is not aligned with the proposed project?

Do not request architectural plans during the RFQ stage. That information will come later if you are chosen as a finalist. Selection panelists are primarily looking at images of your background work, as well as CV, website, and any project reviews.

In Rhode Island public art law requires a selection panel (or jury) be comprised of two artists, the project’s architect, a person who works in the building in which the art will be sited, and a community member. These panelists may have very different points of view.

As a public art administrator, I often invite a curator to serve in one of the artist seats, as curators are accustomed to visualizing how proposed artwork will reside in the space and how the public might react to the work. Curators can be helpful in leading the committee and imbue a sense of confidence in the jury’s decision-making, encouraging the panel to take risks.

At the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts (RISCA) we receive 85–300 applications per commission. When the deadline has passed, panelists read and rank each applicant online. When all the applications have been reviewed and scored, the online application software allows the administrator to set a score threshold, below which, applications will not be considered.

Applications that rank above the threshold will advance to Round 2. At RISCA, there are usually between 20–40 applications that make it to this stage. Round 2 applications are discussed in a day-long meeting. It is here that panelists start to visualize the commission in a more specific way. When panelists near the choosing of finalists, they may re-view images multiple times, re-read resumes, statements, and websites while discussing the pros and cons of each artist.

At the end of the meeting, the selection panelists select three finalists. The three artists are paid a stipend of $2,500 to conduct a site visit and present a proposal in-person to the selection panel. Of those three artists, usually one is commissioned. Our Council must approve the proposal and then RISCA, the artist and the agency sign a contract. From here, planning and fabrication can begin.

Is your process different from RISCA's? What works in your community?

5 responses for Minding Your RFPs And Qs


February 20, 2013 at 9:15 am

Thanks Heath! Are you an artist, arts administrator, or both?

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Heath says
February 20, 2013 at 9:21 am

Thank you. :) Artist (click my name for my website). I was one of the 2012 Year in Review awardees. As an addenda to my original comment, I know quite a other artists that simply will not apply to RFPs, as they feel the same way. I think putting out an RFP is a sure-fire way to end up with lower quality work, as you're only going to attract those artists desperate enough to work for free in the design stage. RFQs are a good way to say "we like your existing body of work and we think your a good fit" *before* making the artist go through all the work of creating a proposal. A solid proposal takes a significant amount of effort.

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Heath says
February 20, 2013 at 9:23 am

(Typo corrections: "I know quite a *few* other artists," and "we think *you're* a good fit...")

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Heath says
February 19, 2013 at 6:54 pm

I'd like to add that unless it's for a very small project (like a bike rack or something of that nature in a very small budget range), RFPs are just bad form. They are asking artists to work for free. If someone asks an artists for a design for a specific site, they should be paid at least a small amount for that work. RFQs are the way to go -- RFPs (generally speaking) show a lack of respect for artists.

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January 30, 2015 at 5:01 am

What a useful article! As a member of Art in Public Places in Rockland County, N.Y. this has been tremendously helpful for putting a call out for a small budget art installation. Ours is definitely an RFQ and not an RFP. Thank you!

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