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Confirmation that artists submitting proposals for a project worth half a million pounds will not have their costs covered comes amid concerns about a lack of diversity in public art.

National Memorial Arboretum (Alrewas, Staffordshire)
National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire.

David Dixon/Creative Commons

A parliamentary committee established to commission a memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum has defended its decision not to offer financial support to artists submitting proposals for the £500,000 project.

The initiative, being run on behalf of the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and the Speaker of the House of Lords, Lord McFall of Alcluith, aims to recognise the service and sacrifice of those who have died in conflict while sitting as a Member of Parliament or working for the House Service.

Submissions are open to artists resident in the UK with previous experience of public sculpture. Those wishing to submit a design will be given the opportunity to visit Parliament to "generate inspiration for their submission", while a visit to the Arboretum, located near Lichfield, Staffordshire, is also recommended.


However, artists will not be reimbursed for any costs or expenses involved with submitting their proposal.

Details of the arrangements come amid concerns of a lack of diversity in public art, with a study published by public art thinktank ixia finding those working in the sector are predominantly white, getting older, with a higher proportion of men than women in artist roles.

Cost in time and money

The report highlighted the challenges artists face in attempting to secure competitive commissions, including the cost to them in time and money.

"It's encouraging to see significant new artist commission opportunities," a statement issued by ixia in response to the parliamentary commission says. 

"However, ixia advocates for best practice in artist commissioning and is concerned to see this project is inviting design proposals without payment nor covering travel expenses when encouraging a site visit. 

"Sadly it is all too common that artists are expected to develop creative proposals for projects speculatively at their own cost. Professional artists are often freelance and as in all professions there is a cost to their time. 

"ixia advocates for either the selection of artists based on their previous work, their experience and their proposed approach (rather than submitted design proposals).  

"Pre-appointment, we recommend that fees for design development are funded by the commissioner with a selected number of shortlisted artists."

While many public art commissions do not contribute towards submission costs, there are those that have. These include commision of work for the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square, as part of which £1,000 is paid by the Greater London Authority to artists meeting submission requirements for the first stage. 

A spokesperson for the Parliamentary Memorial Committee said: "The Committee welcomes all forms of submissions from UK-based artists. 

"Submitting work is free and we anticipate a range of applications, from those that are paper-based to bids that involve technology or other creative ways of pitching designs. 

"No preference will be given to those who submit models, maquettes or 3D designs. The intention is for the project not to involve the use of public money."