• Procurement Network

Procurement of art works and services in public or international organizations

Updated: Jun 18

This article would not have been possible without support from Levon Hovsepyan. Read Levon's interview here.

The picture used for this article is Bacchus by Caravaggio.


Your entity wants to raise awareness and intends to organize an exhibition of photographs that demonstrate a specific topic. For example, human trafficking, or daily challenges of people with disabilities, or people with Alzheimer disease, or cancer survivors, or else.

And, naturally, each photographer has her/his own price for demonstrating the photos. Have you ever wondered how you would evaluate the offers, how you would choose the photographers? Will you simply select the lowest-priced photographer? What about evaluating creativity, quality and impact? How will you evaluate those? What criteria will you use for selection?

Or, another example. Your organization wants to organize an art exhibition and use all collected funds for helping migrants. Museums have different prices for rental of paintings. One museum has higher price, but it has a Van Gogh's painting among others, the second one is a bit lower in price, but it has a perfect collection of 50 paintings from world’s best avant-gardists, the third museum can offer only one painting to exhibit, but it is a gem, like Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss”. Which museum will you sign a contract with? And, most importantly, what criteria will you use for selection of the museum? How will you decide? Van Gogh or Klimt? Who will attract more visitors? Whose tickets can bring more money for helping migrants?

Or, yet another example. Your entity wants to organize a concert and use all collected funds for combating breast cancer. You again have multiple choices; a fantastic flamenco group, a magnificent cello trio and a super jazz band. Remember, you spend public money and it is limited. Which team of musicians will you invite to attract the biggest audience by selling the tickets at the highest possible price?

Whatever choice you make in all these three cases, be sure, there will be an auditor later, who will question any choice you made. And, normally, those auditors do not have public procurement history in their CVs, so you need to explain the entire procurement science from square one.

There are several hints which we would suggest for procurement of art works, creative services or, generally, services that cannot be objectively evaluated.

First hint: Forget About Price. Price cannot be a criterion in such tenders, you cannot compare price of rental of Van Gogh’s painting (orange) to a price of rental of Klimt’s painting (apple). And you will never see two identical fruits in those tenders. Therefore, monetary comparison should be forgotten. We know there are procurement laws or procurement manuals that still consider price as one and only evaluation criteria. Sooner or later those rules should be modified and brought to best international standards (if public wants to see best exhibitions or great concerts more often).

Second hint: Reveal Your Budget. Since your purchase has an approved and limited budget, you better inform invited vendors about that. Unlike any other tender you organize, this is the case when you need to reveal your available budget. It is better to inform the market about the budget, so the market can consider relevant discounts and make valid offers. If you do not reveal your budget in this case, there is a risk of having no exhibition or no concert due to possible high prices of the received offers. Since paintings (the same applies to music) are unique, no other competitor museum can dump the price, because no other competitor has the same painting. However, museums can artificially increase the price. Museums are unique and they have no competition. If you never tell them about any monetary limits, why should not they increase the price? Informing the invitees about your available budget can drastically decrease the price. So, there is no harm in revealing the budget in these tenders.

Third hint: Engage Your Colleagues. Evaluate offers with a large group of colleagues. Vote, if necessary. Involve an expert, who organizes exhibitions, concerts, events like the one you procure. Just like in any other tender, there are numerous hidden technical stones and questions where experts know best. For example: who pays for insurance? what type of insurance is needed? is delivery included in price? Or, in case of a concert, open air or hall? what if it rains during an open-air concert? can tickets be returned and how? etc. We generally advise to consider engaging an expert from the moment you decided to organize anything. Procurement officers cannot be and should not be experts of everything they procure.

Fourth hint: Negotiate Whatever is Negotiable. When your evaluation committee makes a decision on which museum’s art works you will exhibit or which group will be performing at the concert, it is time to work your procurement magic. Negotiate whatever is possible. For example, you can negotiate including a few additional paintings/photographs in the exhibition, you can negotiate having two extra days for exhibition (you must negotiate this), you can negotiate covering incidentals or miscellaneous expenses for logistics and, finally, overall price. You lose nothing by negotiating these items, but your organization might greatly benefit.

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