Legal Fact Sheet
GSA’s Fine Arts Program Office and the Office of Inspector General work together to locate, identify, and recover lost portable artworks produced by artists through the New Deal era federal art programs of the 1930s to the mid-1940s. The New Deal art projects included the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP); the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP); the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts, previously called the Section of Paintings and Sculpture; and the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP).
The New Deal art programs governed how the artists were selected and paid, how the art was documented, and, ultimately, where it was installed or to whom it was distributed. However, a number of circumstances have contributed to the separation of the borrowers from the artwork. In some cases, during the past 75 years, moveable New Deal art has changed hands, and some pieces have found their way into private possession.
When New Deal art is offered for sale and is suspected to be federal property, GSA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is notified. The notification can be made by anyone, including the Fine Arts Program, a private individual, a museum staff member, art dealer, appraiser, or lawyer. The OIG contacts the possessor and provides a legal briefing, explaining the claim to the title of the artwork. The possessor is requested to maintain care and possession of the artwork until title research is complete. The OIG notifies the Department of Justice (DOJ) of its efforts, in case assistance is necessary. Historically, the DOJ’s assistance is rarely required and is primarily civil in nature.
If the artwork is determined to be federal property, GSA works with the possessor to return the art to federal custody, with the ultimate goal of lending the artwork to a qualifying institution.
If you are aware of a New Deal artwork that may be federal property, please contact the GSA’s Fine Arts Program or GSA’s Office of the Inspector General. The OIG will make every effort to maintain the anonymity of those who provide information.
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