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Lessons from the Other Side

(now on )
It’s May 11, 2021. I’ve just finished a three-hour video conference call as part of the selection committee for the in Mississauga. While this is only the first step (after actually reading the submissions) in the process, I’d like to start capturing some thoughts about how we are selecting an artist to take on the project. We had 36 submissions to go through (I wonder if there is any screening whatsoever) and only made it through 26 on this call.

Committee Structure

2 representatives from the Transportation and Works department
2 professional mural artists
1 representative from the City’s public art team

Committee structure can be pretty influential as we’ll see later. It’s not always exactly the same but at least with Canadian government or large nonprofits, you can expect something like an even split between representatives of the client, representatives of the community and professional artists.
Scoring and Criteria
Things to add that don’t necessarily have sections yet
readability and formatting definitely helps reviewers feel better about the submission
While the numbers are based on a more analytical review of the submission material, there are non-quantitative considerations that will be noted. These can act as tie-breakers if multiple people are being considered
Have we already seen a lot of work from this person?
Is this the right time or next step in their career trajectory?
Diversity angle
Judges from the “client” are certainly already thinking about what they like and want on their wall, it’s only natural
Artists are more thinking about good/capable/ready you are
The cover letter/statement of interest/bit where you talk about why you want to do this project is very important. If you do this right you can basically get bonus points.
That said, those points won’t get you anywhere if the panel doesn’t feel you can execute
Think about how suited you are thematically to the project
Think about seniority and past experience relative to size of budget

After we scored everyone, the real curation began—who do we want on this wall and why?
Of the final shortlist of 5, only two were in the top 9 or 10 in terms of total score. A big part of that was feeling those names were “overrepresented”, either their work was everywhere, they had already won lots of bids or too many white dudes
We looked at the work again and voted yes/no just looking at it
We talked about what the general public would like, what might be a little risky but pushing towards more contemporary or good taste, what the staff in the building would have to see every day as they went to work
We talked about “politics”—the fact that this is the first big mural project in Mississauga and that success would help create more opportunity. That the building does a lot of industrial work and people might see a nature-themed mural as hypocrisy. That an international/interprovincial artist coming in, not mentoring or engaging with the local community and leaving might leave a bad taste in the mouths of the local artist community who were overlooked.
We talked about the expected career pathway (do a box, do a hoarding, a small wall, a bigger wall...) and how that can hold people back
But at the same time (and I said this), the artists doing lots of big work rarely have a chance to get paid well. They’re maybe doing festivals at break-even or doing free walls in Miami, precisely to get the experience to win business like this.

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