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Ariel Rios Murals

Background

The Ariel Rios Federal Building - on 12th Street, NW, Washington DC between Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenue - serves as the headquarters for the Environmental Protection Agency. Constructed between 1931 and 1935, the Ariel Rios building was designed and built to house the U.S. Department of the Post Office. The building contains 25 murals created under a 1934 U.S. Treasury art commissioning program. The murals were created for the building between 1931 and 1938 as part of the federal government’s arts program. This was the first location for the integration of murals in federal buildings for New Deal Era federal art programs.

The Ariel Rios Federal Building is a contributing structure in the Pennsylvania Avenue Historic District, which is included in the National Register of Historic Places ("National Register") pursuant to consultations under the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, as amended (16 U.S.C. 470f). The U.S. General Services Administration, as the federal agency with custody and control of the building, is responsible for upholding the provisions of the NHPA, including Section 106 as implemented in 36 CFR Part 800.

Concerns

Visitors and federal employees at the Ariel Rios Federal Building raised objections about the appropriateness of six murals, including complaints that the murals stereotype Native Americans and that they contain images that are inappropriate for the workplace. The murals are located in elevator lobbies on upper floors through which agency employees and visitors pass.

GSA, in order to determine what action if any should be taken regarding the murals to address the objections about them (this potential action is referred to hereinafter as the "Undertaking"), initiated a consultation with the District of Columbia State Historic Preservation Officer in compliance with section 106 of the NHPA on March 14, 2005. GSA is required by 36 CFR Part 800.5 to assess the adverse effects an Undertaking may have on an historic property. "An adverse effect is found when an Undertaking may alter, directly or indirectly, any of the characteristics of a historic property for inclusion in the National Register in a manner that would diminish the integrity of the property's location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, or association." GSA has identified the potential alteration of the mural setting, whether through removal, covering or obscuring of the murals as a potential adverse effect and is conducting the consultation process to consider views concerning such effects.

GSA sought information from individuals and organizations likely to have knowledge of, or concerns about, the murals. GSA also identified issues relating to the Undertaking's potential effect on the murals. The consultation provided a public forum for the participation and comments of all parties interested in the Undertaking and a basis for an informed decision about the disposition of the murals.

The six murals considered in the Section 106 consultation were:

  • French Explorers and Indians by Karl Free
  • Opening of the Southwest by Ward Lockwood
  • Consolidation of the West by Ward Lockwood
  • Dangers of the Mail by Frank Mechau
    • Torture by the Stake
    • Attacking Station at Night
    • Breaking out Mustangs
    • The Pony Rider Goes Through
  • Pony Express by Frank Mechau
    • Stealing Horses from a Station
    • The Stage Makes a Town
    • The Red Man Takes the Mochila
    • The Lead Horse Goes Down
    • Death on the Prairie
  • Covered Wagon Attacked by Indians by William Palmer

The final mural selections are featured in the Ariel Rios final brochure.

Public Forum

The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) held a public forum on Monday, October 30, 2006 fn the Ronald Reagan Building/International Trade Center at 13th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington, DC.

The Forum was conducted to generate a discussion that could be shared with members of the public that have not had the benefit of hearing a discourse on the murals, other than what has been posted on this web site to date. 

It was GSA's intention to create such a discourse by assembling a panel to discuss the artistic and cultural issues that are relevant to the controversy.

Panelists participating in the event included, Paul Chatt Smith and Rayna Green, curators with the Smithsonian Institution; Hilde Hein, visiting scholar at the Brandeis University Women's Studies Resource Center; B. Byron Price, director of the Charles M. Russell Center; Connie Kieffer, a member of the board of the Center for New Deal Studies at Roosevelt University; Sharyn Udall, professor of art history of new Mexico; and Robert Weinstein, 

a principal in the architectural firm Architrave. The panel session was moderated by Mary Case, co-founder of Quality Management to a Higher Power.

This public forum is a part of a comprehensive consultation process under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.

Comment Procedures

After posting a transcript of the Oct. 2006 forum, GSA opened a second public comment period that ended in February 2007. GSA has made a decision on the treatment of the murals.

 

For additional information on the Section 106 consultation process, please visit the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The shortcut to this page is www.gsa.gov/arielriosmurals.

CONTACTS

Portfolio Management Division (NCR PBS)
(202) 708-5334

Public Forum Comments


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