Guest Blog: Commissioning – It’s time for a radical rethink


We are pleased to be able to host a guest blog today from musician Jo-anne Cox and to share that as a result of this we are reflecting and acting upon the issues she discussed below.

Her latest project, Define Your Journey, placing audiences at the heart of an interactive adventure, is out on YouTube on 21st December. Look out for it!

Jo-anne plays cello on a stage lit in pink

On 5th of December I announced on social media that I would never again go for any substantial commission where feedback and support is not provided to unsuccessful applicants. I had spent International Day of Disabled Persons having self harming thoughts and thinking 20 people hated me and thought my work was crap. Less than 24 hours earlier I had received a rejection from a high profile commissioning programme.

It was a well intended “Stay Safe” in the rejection notification that got me thinking.

Staying safe is not possible for me – and perhaps others too – in the standard procedure of ” it’s a no and goodbye.” This way of doing things renders the process inaccessible to me. I will always be triggered by a rejection notification, that’s my neurodivergence and the condition I live with, but does this mean I should gracefully accept, disappear into a quiet corner and have my mental health episode unnoticed? No way!

The application contains my work, my work is my cello and in my cello is my soul. The application took valuable time and energy from me. Everyone involved in processing the application presumably was remunerated. The success of any artistic programme, is not solely dependent on the successful applicants but all those who applied, driving up the standards, offering an amazing selection of work from which commissioners take their pick. The whole process left me with an uncomfortable feeling that I gave away too much of myself for absolutely nothing in return. This for me is psychologically dangerous.

Being an artist involves rejection and the feelings of despondency and anger that go with it, it will trigger me and nothing can change that. Constructive feedback and at least something to help move my work forward would help as would some access support to help manage the fall out. It would make the experience more equal and allow me to process the situation and gain perspective.

All this equates with making the experience psychologically safer and therefore more accessible. This just isn’t about me becoming unwell but for all the artists who ‘s mental health and well being was effected and not just by this commission.

So, Commissioners everywhere, I challenge you to radically re-think the set up!

Embed consideration for the wellbeing of all in the process. We know it’s tough, the number of applications overwhelming and resources are limited.

At this time when the whole arts sector is under threat, commissioners programming Disabled-led work are doing an outstanding job to raise funds to keep our amazing work from disappearing, but please let’s see if we can make HOLISTIC commissioning a thing.

Jo-anne Cox is an electric cellist and DM associate Musician. All views expressed in this blog are her own, though Drake Music has encouraged her to think radically.

Jo-anne Cox’s website