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How Museums Can Commission Creatives to Reach New Audiences

An artist draws on a computer tablet

The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland have been commissioning creatives to share archaeological finds in a new and interesting way. They hired a team of artists to respond to their finds for their annual Dig It! fieldwork campaign. Later photographers joined them in the field to capture unique perspectives on the fieldwork. Also, Dig It! commissioned a spoken word artist to create a poem inspired by a new site. They have also hired a tattoo artist to reimagine three scenes featuring black figures in Scottish History.

At MuseumNext, Julianne McGraw and Sally Pentecost from the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland shared how they collaborate with creatives to create these imaginative experiences.

Start With the Why

Your vision needs to make sense before you reach out to creatives. Think about your museum values, mission, and objectives and if the project will fit with the museum’s overall direction.

Also, look at your target audience and where it overlaps with other organisations or creatives. The Society of Antiquaries of Scotland was able to expand its reach by hiring a storyteller to participate in a storytelling festival. Using their hashtags, they were able to engage with the festival’s audience by engaging with the theme and releasing video content captured on the day of the festival.

It is also important to consider the medium to see what might get the best reaction from your target audience and the media. Dig It! found that photography was the most successful but also the most expensive. Consider the distribution method because some mediums may have limitations on where and how they can be distributed.

Hiring Creatives

The first thing you need to do is write a brief. Start with the basics and provide comprehensive information. Here are some things to think about before you write an ad, brief, and contract:

  • What you are trying to achieve
  • How you intend to use the artwork
  • Where you intend to use the artwork
  • How long you intend to use the artwork
  • The type of file you want
  • Method of communication
  • Final deadline
  • How many drafts you require
  • Agreement withdrawal terms
  • Copyright ownership and permitted uses
  • Examples of what you don’t want

Providing this information will ensure both parties are on the same page, and you will achieve what you are looking for. Creatives are not mindreaders, and while you are hiring them for their creativity, they do need some guidance.

How to Find Creatives

There are two methods you could use to find creatives:

  1. Source creatives individually
  2. Hold an open call

Which method you choose will depend on a number of factors. Experiment with both and find out which works best for you and your museum.

Creatives are easy to find, especially on social media. Etsy is a great place to look for creatives as you can use the filters to find people in your location and view their past work. Approaching creatives individually is a lot less work than an open call, and it keeps the project private until you are ready to launch it.

Open calls can be useful if you are unsure of the type of style you want for the project. You will see applications from creatives that you may not have otherwise considered. It is also a great way to hire multiple creatives if you want a number of them to work on the project.


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A post shared by Dig It! (@digitscotland)

Commissioning as an opportunity for inclusion 

Commissioning creatives is a great way to connect with underrepresented communities and find fresh perspectives on the subject matter. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland have enjoyed the way creatives have interacted with the past, especially those without a heritage or archaeology background.

In order to encourage inclusivity, they included the following things in the ad:

  • No minimum experience requirements
  • Flexible response methods (text, video, or audio) to explain how their work would suit the brief
  • No requirement to produce work for the application

Society of Antiquaries of Scotland hired an equality, diversity, and inclusion consultant to help them create a framework for hiring diverse creatives. They hired this consultant to help them stay legally compliant, but the consultant informed everything from their ads and briefs to how they approach future projects. One of the most valuable things was a list of places that Society of Antiquaries of Scotland could advertise in order to reach a diverse group of creatives.

Commission Repeat Work

If you like a creative’s work, hire them again. Hiring a creative again establishes a relationship with them. With a good relationship in place, you will receive more air time in their promotion and be able to tap into their network of creatives if you need to hire more creatives for the project. Overall it saves you a lot of time and effort.

Hiring talented creatives to do repeat work not only guarantees the quality of the final result it also supports the creative. Even though you are paying for a service, it is good to create a mutually beneficial relationship. Supporting creatives and their community by paying fair prices, referring creatives, and hiring them again is how we create an environment where art, history, and culture thrives.


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A post shared by Dig It! (@digitscotland)

6 Tips For Working With Creatives

If you are considering commissioning creatives for your museum, Julianne McGraw and Sally Pentecost had these 6 tips:

  1. Link the project aims with the larger objectives of the museum. These provide context for what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Give yourself plenty of time for the commission. Three months is the minimum to make sure the project is ready on time.
  3. Don’t underpay creatives. Do some market research to identify a fair wage for the work you are commissioning. Underpaying creatives can result in subpar work and will make your hiring practices less inclusive.
  4. Look for partner organisations to expand your reach. This will help your project gain more traction without large advertising costs.
  5. Choose the hiring practice that works for you. Weigh up the advantages and disadvantages of various hiring practices to find the best match for you.
  6. Follow the creative’s lead. Embrace the ideas they present and allow them creative freedom. You have hired them for their skills.

Julianne McGraw and Sally Pentecost from Society of Antiquaries of Scotland spoke about their work at MuseumNext in 2021.

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