Artists' Ideas for City Hall Sculpture Fall Foul of Red Tape

There’s an empty plinth outside City Hall on Dame Street.

When Sculpture Dublin, a council initiative from the arts office and park services, put out a call for submissions for artwork to put there, it got 36 ideas back.

Almost half, though, were immediately ruled out.

A spokesperson for Sculpture Dublin said that 17 submissions were ineligible “because they did not include a response to the basic criteria set out in the commission brief”. A budget breakdown, for example, they said.

Artists say that falling at the first hurdle of form-filling isn’t uncommon when applying for grants from government bodies, like Dublin City Council or the Arts Council.

Changes to application processes and more support for artists pulling together applications would help broaden the kinds of ideas that are put forward and funded, they say.

“It allows the art to come first and then all the nuts and bolts come second,” says Vanessa Fielding, director of the arts centre The Complex.

A spokesperson for Sculpture Dublin said: “The selection process has at all times been clear and transparent and Sculpture Dublin has adhered to it in order to be fair and consistent with everyone.”

The Paperwork

Besides the City Hall commission, Sculpture Dublin put out a call for ideas for artworks at Kildonan Park in Finglas, Smithfield Square Lower, Ballyfermot People’s Park, St Anne’s Park, and Bushy Park.

Sculpture Dublin got 143 submissions for five commissions around the city, said a spokesperson. Of these, 39 were disqualified, including the 17 for the plinth.

“The majority of ineligible submissions did not include a project plan, timeline and budget,” the spokesperson said. Others were disqualified for leaving out a CV or earlier works, a written proposal or because they applied for more than one commission.

The O'Connell Plinth outside City Hall. Photo by Donal Corrigan.

To have a shot at getting their creation on the O’Connell Plinth outside City Hall, artists had to send in contact info, a CV, five examples of their work, and their proposal, says the Sculpture Dublin website

In the proposal, the artist had to outline their vision and explain how the sculpture would relate to City Hall, show a mock-up, and lay out a budget, timeline and plan for the piece.

Artists got seven weeks to apply for the first round of the application, the spokesperson said. (There was a second round for short-listers.)

Artists could also go visit the plinth on 7 August and ask Dublin City Council Heritage Officer Charles Duggan questions about the commission, which had a budget of €50,000.

Slip-Ups and Know-How

It can be difficult for artists unfamiliar with the application process, says Fielding.

If you’ve had funding in the past, you’ve the benefit of knowing what has worked, she says. That doesn’t mean it’ll all go smoothly, though.

“We have been eliminated for not uploading or forgetting to upload something and that is really frustrating,” says Fielding, speaking about her experiences applying for Arts Council commissions.

The list can be extensive, she says. “We’ve had applications where you have to upload 30 small things.” You might forget a CV or letter of support, she says.

Also, it can be hard to pin down your concept in an application format for the Arts Council, says Fielding. “It wasn’t my lack of intelligence or my lack of diligent reading of the guidelines.”

In the end, Fielding and her team just paid somebody else to do one application.

“A lot of people do that too. Somebody who is really good at doing them, they really understand how to answer them and they convert your project into a more understandable language,” she says.

It’s hard for those flying solo or independent, says Ruth McGowan, director of the Dublin Fringe Festival. “To see the volume** **of work, that is a lot.”

What to Do

Few artists living in the North Central and North West Areas of the city – which covers from Donaghmede to Fairview, and Finglas to Santry – applied for the council’s recent public art commissions, says Social Democrats Councillor Cat O’Driscoll.

“There was single digits of community and neighbourhood grant applications [from those areas],” says O’Driscoll, who chairs the council’s arts committee.

“We don’t think that there’s no people interested there in doing art,” she says. “We think it is a capacity issue or a resource issue.”

The council is going to do more work with community officers and other staff, making them available to help people with applications, says O’Driscoll.

Applying for grants is a skill, says O’Driscoll “I used to work on European projects. The bureaucracy around putting projects together was immense.”

Fielding says one simple change that might help is to stop applicants from being able to move to the next page on the website if they haven’t loaded up everything that’s needed on the current page.

She says that was the case for one European Union-funded scheme she applied for.

“It won’t submit unless they’ve checked off that you have submitted everything. So there is no chance that you have left off one person’s CV by mistake and then the whole blooming thing gets rejected,” she says.

Would Sculpture Dublin do something similar?

“The commission brief clearly set out what was required in the submissions and that incomplete submissions would not be considered or reviewed by the selection panel,” said a spokesperson.

Interested artists were invited to send queries on commission briefs to Sculpture Dublin, the spokesperson said. They “were responded to promptly on receipt”.

McGowan, of Dublin Fringe Festival, says people and resources are there to help. “So definitely don’t be afraid to reach out to those support organisations that exist.”

Big organisations like the Arts Council and Dublin Fringe Festival should reach out to independent and smaller artists to share what they know, she says.

“It’s important that we are saying, ‘Call us.’ There is a person on the end of this email to deal with your question,” she says.

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Donal Corrigan: Donal Corrigan is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. He covers transport, and the southside. To get in contact with him, you can email him on [email protected]

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