Cool Jobs: Fed manages fine art at the GSA

Monday - 8/9/2010, 4:05pm EDT

Jennifer Gibson, program manager, Fine Arts Program, GSA

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This week, Federal News Radio brings you the Best of the DorobekInsider. This interview originally aired on July 15, 2010.

When you think of fine arts and the federal government, you probably think of the National Gallery, not the General Services Administration; however, GSA keeps track of all of the artwork in and around federal buildings.

Jennifer Gibson is the program manager of GSA's Fine Arts Program and oversees a wide variety of artwork.

"A large part of our collection is work that was done under the New Deal arts program. [There are] permanently installed works, for example, as you go along Constitution Avenue you see sculptures on those buildings [and] the murals in those buildings. [There are] also portable paintings and prints. We have thousands of prints which are on loan to non-federal institutions around the country."

During the Depression, the government paid artists to produce art, which was then loaned or allocated to museums, libraries and other organizations.

To this day, the fine arts program manager maintains those loans.

Gibson says that because some of the works are getting to be 80 years old, their records got lost or misplaced over the years. By working with the Inspector General recently, GSA has been able to recover around 10,000 pieces of art after reconciling federal inventories with institutional inventories.

On top of this, Gibson is responsible for finding new works of art for federal buildings.

"We do it through our art and architecture program, and anytime there's a major remodeling, renovation of a federal building, or we're building a new building, half of a percent of estimated construction costs . . . goes to commission artwork by American artists."

Selecting any piece of art involves creating an advisory panel for each project, which includes community representatives, architects, the client agency, officials from GSA and professionals involved in the arts.

They discuss what sort of artwork or artist might be appropriate be appropriate, but the competition is open to any artist.

GSA also keeps a registry of all artists, which you can find here.

As far as working at the GSA, Gibson says she loves her job, but does sometimes have to explain what, exactly, she does to those not familiar with the agency.

"It's not the place one would normally go to look for art, except it makes sense. We have all of these buildings, and the nation's been committed to including the arts, and so this is where we've done it. We're not giving artists money and saying -- 'go out and create what you want'. It's a commissioning process."

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Email the author of this post at dramienski@federalnewsradio.com