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AiA 50 picture of painting
Photo credit: Carol M. Highsmith Photography

Golden anniversary: 50 years of GSA’s Arts in Architecture

| GSA Blog Team
Post filed in: Art in Architecture

Perhaps you wouldn’t expect to see a mural of gold acrylic paint, watercolor and book pages on canvas in a federal building and post office in Fargo, North Dakota. 

Particularly one called “EVERYONE IS WELCOME! FOR THE PEOPLE OF FARGO (after Franz Kafka).” 

But indeed, it’s there. Tom Rollins + K.O.S. (Kids of Survival) created the mural for the federal building and U.S. post office lobby in 2007, working with local public school students and the Circle of Nations Wahpeton Indian School to produce the artwork. Rollins, who hailed from Maine and died in 2017, created the K.O.S. art collective in the South Bronx in New York in 1982, recognized around the world as an avant garde practice. Using literary texts from Franz Kafka, Ralph Ellison and other literary figures as a basis for their paintings and prints, Rollins worked with the group of at-risk students who became Kids of Survival (K.O.S.). 

But how did their mural get there?

GSA’s Art in Architecture program! In the 50 years of the program, it’s commissioned 500 pieces, including “Flamingo” by Alexander Calder, “Facets to the Sun” by Louise Bourgeois and  “Family” by Romare Bearden. 

The program illuminates a strong presence of community and individual spirit.

“It’s increasingly clear that access to art makes for more vibrant communities and for healthier, happier people,” said GSA Administrator Robin Carnahan at the AiA anniversary celebration on Oct. 23. Over 250 people attended the celebration at GSA’s Washington office and online. In her remarks at the ceremony, Carnahan reaffirmed GSA’s commitment to public art. GSA’s collection is “the  people’s collection and it’s spread across the country in federal buildings and on loan to museums.”

By regulation, GSA reserves 0.5% of the estimated construction cost of each new federal building or modernization for an Art in Architecture commission—a contractual agreement with an artist to create a site-specific artwork as part of the building project. 

As Administrator Carnahan said, “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.”

Part of that story is showing our diversity of cultures.

The Art of Diversity” video shows the rich variety of artworks and artists that make up the AiA program. It celebrates artistic diversity of expression, featuring pictures of the artworks all across the country: murals, sculptures, tapestries, textiles, mosaics, poetry, light installations, landscapes, statues, and paintings. 

The video also describes the diverse group of American artists who allow us to share a greater range of perspectives to reflect U.S. cultural heritage and diversity. AiA reflects GSA’s commitment to promoting diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility in public art.

And for our next 50? “We’ll continue to expand opportunities to a broad array of artists, including new artists, to ensure our collection reflects the diversity and creativity of our country,” concluded Carnahan.  

Read how Rollins mixed Kafka book pages, jazz, children’s sketches, and the Fargo area railroad tracks and Red River.  


See our fine arts collection here. It’s one of the nation’s oldest and largest public art collections. Find out what art’s in your neighborhood. Join the National Artist Registry. Read how GSA’s Art in Architecture program works.