Having previously revoked former President Donald Trump’s “beautiful” architecture mandate for federal buildings and nixed plans for an “American Hero”-stuffed statuary garden, the administration of President Joe Biden has now reversed a Trump-era mandate dictating what kind of public art can be commissioned for federal buildings via the General Service Administration (GSA)’s Art in Architecture program.
As detailed by CNN, the public art rule stipulated that commissioned works were required to depict “historically significant Americans or events of American historical significance or illustrate the ideals upon which our Nation was founded.” Per Trump’s July 2020 executive order entitled “Building and Rebuilding Monuments to American Heroes,” any GSA-commissioned statue or artwork portraying the likeness of a historical figure was verboten from taking an abstract or modernist approach. Only “realistic and lifelike” representations were permitted under the order.
Trump’s public art-limited order was enacted during a turbulent summer of racial reckoning as Jim Crow-era monuments to Confederate icons were toppled or removed across the country following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
As further detailed in a recent GSA press release, the agency’s new Federal Management Regulation final rule, which was published in the Federal Register on January 31, “removes restrictions on subject matter, theme, and art styles, restrictions that had excluded many artists from consideration for commissions. These policy updates align the program’s outreach with the goals of the executive order on Advancing Racial Equity and Support for Underserved Communities Through the Federal Government.”
“GSA’s intent to modify policies in the final rule reverses currently restrictive requirements and updates definitions to be more inclusive of different visual arts,” the release added.
“As we approach the 50th anniversary of GSA’s Art in Architecture program, GSA has renewed its commitment to commissioning artists of our time to create artworks for federal buildings,” said GSA Public Buildings Service Commissioner Nina Albert in a statement. “By supporting neither an official style nor subject matter, Art in Architecture seeks to include artists who work in many styles and materials and come from the diverse communities of our nation. Incorporating contemporary art in our important civic spaces exemplifies how democratic societies benefit from the creative talents of individuals.”
Since it was first established in 1972, the GSA’s Art in Architecture program has led to the permanent installation of more than 500 artworks produced by American artists in federal buildings across the country. The GSA also maintains a National Artist Registry of roughly 1,700 artists that it primarily (but not exclusively) pulls from when commissioning new works. (When not identified through the registry, artists are found through other means such as “posted solicitations for active procurements” per the GSA.)
In establishing the new restriction-banishing rule, the GSA is also upping its call for submissions to the National Artist Registry—joining the database is free and open to all artists who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. According to the GSA’s recent press release, it has also launched a 60-day public comment period seeking input on “ways GSA can proactively engage underserved communities during the commissioning process for a work of art, increase the diversity of the pool of artists considered for the Art in Architecture program, and improve the accessibility and inclusiveness of public works of art.”