Remarks for Art in Architecture 50th Anniversary Celebration on October 23, 2023 Prepared for Administrator Robin Carnahan
Thank you, Elliot. I’m glad to be here with you, Allison Azevedo, Chuck Hardy, Jennifer Gibson. Special thanks to the terrific team that put together this event and for working everyday to reaffirm our commitment to public art.
Last week, there was a meeting at the White House with leaders from across the government and the art world.
I wasn’t surprised to hear about the work being done by the National Endowment for the Arts…after all, promoting public art is what they do. But it was fascinating to hear how people from so many other domains are also integrating art and arts education into their work.
Why? Because it’s increasingly clear that access to art makes for more vibrant communities and for healthier, happier people.
From the human wellness missions of the Department of Education and Department of Health… to the infrastructure investments being made by the Department of Transportation and EPA, leaders in each of those agencies spoke about the value of public art for our people and our communities.
I was proud to share how GSA has been integrating public art into our buildings and communities across the country for more than 50 years. Chuck is going to talk more about that, but let me also say, if you haven’t heard Jennifer talk about the breadth of our collection and the diversity of our artists, you should! It’s a remarkable legacy that has launched careers and impacted communities across the country.
Bottomline - GSA invests in public art because we want federal buildings to not only inhabit the communities around them, but to enrich those communities as well.
But, let’s back up for a minute.
Between 1933 - 1939, President Roosevelt enacted a series of programs, public works, and regulations called The New Deal. The whole thing was aimed at promoting economic recovery and putting Americans back to work.
In 1962, before organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts even existed, President Kennedy launched something called the Fine Arts for Federal Buildings Program.
Kennedy was inspired by the Guiding Principles for Federal Architecture that described some of its basic principles as “fine art should be incorporated in the designs of federal buildings, with an emphasis on the work of living American artists.”
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? It should…because those are the same basic principles we continue to follow to this day in the Art in Architecture program.
President Nixon must have also agreed, because 10 years later, in 1972, he issued a directive to expand what Kennedy started by establishing the Art in Architecture program and housing it at GSA. That was the start of our journey.
In the 50 years since then, we’ve commissioned 500 works across the country… Today, GSA is caretaker to the nation’s largest public art collection.
Unlike museums that house their art collections, GSA’s collection is the people’s collection and it’s spread across the country in federal buildings and on loan to museums…from courthouses in Pennsylvania and Florida… to land ports of entry along our borders.
This art not only brightens our federal buildings and public spaces, it also tells the story of our nation and our democracy, showcasing our culture and our spirit.
And the diversity and vibrancy of our portfolio reflects the diversity and vibrancy of the American story.
So, when visitors come into a federal building, they’re able to experience that art and be reminded of who we are as a country and who we want to be. Funding from last year’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act means we’ll be investing more in our public spaces which means more opportunity to invest in public art.
As we do that, and as we look to the next 50 years, we’ll continue to be guided by our core values of preserving artistic freedom and diversity of thought. And we’ll continue to partner with NEA and others to expand opportunities to a broad array of artists, including new artists, to ensure our collection reflects the diversity and creativity of our country.
So, if you know any artists, please encourage them to sign up to be part of GSA’s Artist Registry. And definitely check out our updated website at art dot gsa dot gov where you can explore the collection and find your new favorite American artist.
As President Biden often says, our country is made up of possibilities and nothing is beyond our reach if we remember who we are and work together.
All of us at GSA - and throughout the Biden-Harris Administration - understand that public art is a living legacy and a reminder that we continue to be a nation of the people, by the people, and for all people.