Many of the earlier murals in the United States on view to the public were created through the support of the Federal government. Today, most of these murals are under the care of the U.S. General Services Administration. The U.S. General Services Administration was created in 1949 and given a charter to coordinate the complex activities concerned with procurement, use and disposal of government property. The care of art in federal buildings is a part of the work of GSA as well as the procurement of new art for new Federal buildings under its Art-in-Architecture Program.
Art in Federal buildings is an American tradition which is proudly continued by GSA. The Fine Arts Collection of GSA is one of the nation’s largest and most diverse collections, consisting of over 16,000 installed or associated paintings, sculpture, architectural or environmental works of art and graphics dating from the 1850’s to the present. These public works, located in Federal buildings and non-Federal repositories across the United States, are maintained by GSA as part of our cultural heritage and as a reminder of the important tradition of individual creative expression. It is the mission of GSA’s Fine Arts Program to manage the fine arts assets to insure their accountability, accessibility, preservation and appropriate use. These works enhance and promote high quality work environments for Federal agencies and the public they serve.
Most of the art collection for which General Services Administration is responsible dates from the Works Progress Administration and (later named) Works Projects Administration (WPA). These were within large social experiments offering relief to the nation’s unemployed of many and diverse occupations of which artists were a small part. The arts were added to the WPA support eligibility in 1935. However, from 1933 to 1934, when the Treasury Department was responsible for care of federal buildings, Treasury operated the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) to decorate public buildings. Following this, Treasury developed other art support programs under its Section of Painting and Sculpture (later called Section of Fine Art). “Section Art” as opposed to “WPA Art”, was produced between 1934 and 1943. Another Treasury project, The Treasury Relief Art Program, was funded through WPA and ran from 1935 to 1939 to decorate new federal buildings lacking funding for art in their construction budgets. Because of this complicated history, many wall paintings, whether produced through Treasury programs or the WPA, are often simply identified as WPA art. WPA visual arts found in GSA collections consists of artistic work in all forms of media such as paintings, murals, sculpture, drawings, graphics, watercolors, photographs, and decorations. Some of the WPA art has fallen from GSA responsibility as permanently affixed art remained in buildings transferred to other owners and art found its way to collectors and museums.