Remarks for national endowment for the arts summit “healing, bridging, thriving: a summit on arts and culture in our communities”

Thank you, Chair Jackson. 

Hello everyone. My name is Katy Kale. I’m the Deputy Administrator at GSA. My pronouns are she/her and as a visual description, I am a white woman with long, light brown hair, and I am wearing a black top and red pants, and dark rimmed glasses.

On behalf of Administrator Robin Carnahan and everyone at GSA, thank you for having me here today. Our agency is proud to support public art and do our part to bring it into federal spaces. 

I love that video because it shows the diversity and variety of GSA’s artwork ‒ but it is only a fraction of what we hold in the nation’s largest collection of public art…

And speaking of fractions, I have an important one for you: one half of one percent. That’s how much GSA sets aside from each of our large building projects - just for public art. 

Given the billions of dollars in funding that we invest each year - one half of one percent can make a tremendous impact.

In fact, the scope of our Art in Architecture program is much bigger than most people realize.

GSA is the caretaker of the nation’s largest public art collection – that’s over 26,000 paintings, murals, sculptures, light and earth-work installations… and so much more - some of which are on display in our facilities, and many on loan to museums. 

To understand how GSA became such a champion for public art, we have to look back at our nation’s history. 

Under President Roosevelt, we as a country invested deeply in creating more jobs, boosting our economy, and celebrating the American spirit - and funding for the arts was a key part of FDR’s New Deal.

Fast forward to 1962, President Kennedy issued the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture. This included the idea of incorporating fine art into federal buildings “with an emphasis on the work of living American artists.”  

And then in 1972, President Nixon asked the NEA to recommend a program to place even more art in federal buildings. That’s when GSA’s Art in Architecture program was created.

In the last 50 years, GSA has created policies to grow and strengthen the Art in Architecture program - and at the same time, we have remained committed to those initial ideas, principles, and recommendations. 

GSA’s collection is “the People’s Collection.” It tells the ongoing story of our people and of our democracy… of our struggles and our triumphs… of our cultures and of our collective goal to create a more perfect union. 

We want federal employees to remember those stories when they come to work and see public art in the halls of their buildings. And, we want visitors to see themselves reflected in those stories when they come to a building to receive services and benefits from their own government. 

These works remind us of who we are as a country… and who we strive to be. 

So looking forward, what does the next 50 years hold for federally-funded public art?

First, GSA is implementing the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to ensure that equity is embedded into how we support the arts. Specifically, we have expanded access to a more diverse range of artists - working in a variety of mediums. We’ve also expanded our guidelines to bring in a broader array of subject matter, themes, and styles. 

Second, in line with the Executive Order to Promote the Arts we’re partnering with organizations like the NEA.   

GSA’s Art in Architecture program is only one of two federal programs that directly commission artists to create work.  We need more of that - we want to build on those partnerships in order to support more work for artists and their studios across the country. 

And third, GSA is investing nearly $7 billion in historic funding from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and Inflation Reduction Act - and a portion of that is going to federal art.

It’s our goal to ensure public art remains a government-wide priority well into the future. We have an amazing team at GSA who lead this effort, including Jennifer Gibson, who’s here today, but everyone can play a role in this work.  

So… To my federal colleagues, if this work is as exciting to you as it is to me, and you are interested in starting or strengthening public arts programs through your agency -  my team at GSA is eager to work with you. 

To all the artists in the room, you are a vibrant part of the American workforce. And just as we’re creating infrastructure jobs across the country, we also want to create good jobs for artists. 

I hope you will spread the news about GSA’s Artist Registry. That’s where artists from your community can learn more about commissions. We’re always looking for artists who can help us put a spotlight on what’s special and unique about each of the communities where GSA has projects.

And finally, to the arts advocates across the country - remember that public art is a living legacy. 

Just as our government works to build trust with the American people by delivering services they expect from their government… we will also build trust by showing Americans that they themselves are reflected - in all their diverse ways – in our public art. 

GSA is proud to have done this for 50 years… and we’re looking forward to doing even more in the next 50.  

Thank you again for welcoming me today and enjoy the rest of the summit.