Commissioning Beauty

Commissioning Beauty

Kelly Marshall, Hand-Knotted Wool Rug

An example of work browsers can find on the site: a hand-knotted wool rug by Kelly Marshall. Photo: Abernathy Photo

Toni Sikes has been helping craftspeople market and sell their work since 1985, when she first published The Guild, an annual print sourcebook that, for years, connected makers with interior designers and architects. Now the Madison, Wisconsin-based marketing consultant and passionate craft advocate has partnered with business expert Terry Maxwell in a new online venture: the Art Commission, a select database of makers – with about 900 artists from 30 countries by a recent count, and growing. Its mission: “To help artists get commissions, and make the world a more beautiful place.”

Why did you create the Art Commission?
I believed there was a need to help artists create commissioned artwork and give them a marketing venue. The traditional venues are not really appropriate for artists who do commission work, especially on a large scale – for instance, architectural glass. They don’t do art fairs; they typically don’t show and sell their work through galleries.

We focus on categories within the design industry that use art in the design of spaces: health care facilities, hotels, restaurants, and spas; office buildings and homes; churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship; and of course, public art. Anyone interested in commissioning – whether a design professional or an art lover – can come and use the website.

How does it work?
We try to make it as simple as possible. Our site is essentially a huge database of images, and the artists tag their images. The user can come to the site and select from more than 150 tags, to home in on what they’re looking for.

We have other tools you can use, such as design boards. Let’s say you’re looking for a wall hanging for a hotel lobby. You can click and save a whole bunch of different images, make notes, then share that design board with colleagues or clients, and say, “Hey, this is what I’m thinking about for this space.”

I love the idea that when design professionals come to our site and look under, for instance, “art for the wall,” we have wonderful paintings, but they could also look at quilts or ceramic pieces. I want to get them out of this mindset of only looking at traditional work, so that they see all the other amazing things that are available.

You’ve also launched an awards program.
Yes, it’s really exciting. The title is the CoD+A awards, which stands for “collaboration of design plus art” – with a big emphasis on collaboration.

I believe so strongly that if artists can be brought into the design process early and given the goals of the project – for instance, the goal of a spa interior is to make people feel calm and relaxed, the goal of a hospital project is to make them feel warm and healthy and healing – then they can actually contribute to that process, and make the art so much more meaningful. So we created this awards program to honor that collaboration, and that’s how the works will be judged. The jury is a wonderful mixture of art professionals like curator [and ACC trustee] Michael Monroe, Museum of Arts and Design chairman emerita Barbara Tober, and former museum director David A. Ross, but also top architects and designers. We’re getting fantastic submissions from all over the world. [Winners will be announced in mid-August.] 

You’ve worked in the craft field a long time. What motivates you?
I believe artists play a critically important role in our society. A line I’ve used in speeches is the Thomas Friedman quote that they are the nurturers of our collective imagination. So if we value the role they play, then it’s very important to make sure they can support themselves and their families in their chosen profession. That’s a big part of what has always motivated me: What can I do to help artists make a living?

Joyce Lovelace is American Craft’s contributing editor.