Criteria for Additions to the State House Art Collection

The Fine Arts Collection at the State House is composed primarily of easel paintings, two- and three-dimensional sculptures and plaques, and wall murals that span the history of the Commonwealth from colonial times to the present. These objects have been acquired to commemorate service to the state and nation by elected officials, the military, and private citizens, and to educate visitors in the role the honorees have played in the history of our state and nation.

Works of art are added through a two-part process: legislative authorization (Act or Resolve) for acquisition, whether by gift or purchase, and approval of design and content by the Art Commission. The Art Collection has never before been guided by a "Collecting Criteria" policy, but has grown as art works are proposed by individual or groups of legislators. The Art Commission has developed this policy, therefore, to serve as a guide for legislators, sponsors, and the Commission in managing the acquisition process by providing criteria and standards for proposed additions to the Collection, and to provide a basis for addressing long-range collection development. This policy is to be used in conjunction with the Art Acquisition Guidelines, attached.

Criteria for Commemoration

The initial challenge in this process is to consider carefully if the memorial, whether honoring a person, group, or event, merits permanent commemoration at the Massachusetts State House. As designated curators, the Art Commission should be contacted by the sponsoring legislator(s) as early as possible to discuss the suitability or appropriateness of proposed additions, and the wording of the legislation (see under Process, p. 3).

A. All proposals should be evaluated in depth for:

  • Relationship to Massachusetts.
  • Degree of importance and the impact to the Commonwealth and the life of its citizens.
  • The lasting value of the contribution or service.
  • Appropriateness for the State House Art Collection - would the artwork be more suitable in another location?
  • Physical properties (materials, aesthetic merit, etc.) - can the artwork be cared for within the resources of the Art Commission?

The fact that a memorial is proposed without cost to the Commonwealth should have no bearing on the decision to accept.

B. Additional questions to consider:

  • Specific reason for commemoration - understood and substantiated.
  • Availability of sufficient funds to produce a memorial worthy of the honoree. Too often a memorial is compromised because sponsors do not realize the cost involved, and thereby risk refusal by the Art Commission of a lesser design on aesthetic grounds. Artists fees, materials, fabrication, transportation, special engineering and installation, if necessary, and maintenance funds must all be considered when calculating the potential cost of realizing the artwork. See ** below.
  • Appropriateness for inclusion in the State House Art Collection. The following should be carefully considered before they are authorized:

- Anniversary installations or installations that express gratitude to the Commonwealth. These often do no more than to call attention to a particular interest group.

- Installations recognizing non-elected individuals whose contribution was limited to within the building. Some memorials may be more appropriately placed within the offices most served by the honoree.

- Any installation recognizing persons or events having little bearing Massachusetts history

- Memorials that do not specifically commemorate public service, sacrifice, or have a significant bearing on the history of the commonwealth and its people.

- Memorials that honor persons or events because they were, by accident of history, were "first," unless the occurrence has had a lasting impact or benefited the citizenry at large.

Authorizing language

The following information should be considered when drafting a bill:

  • The subject being honored or commemorated.
  • The type of memorial being proposed
  • Proposed location

4) Name of donor or sponsor, and whether a gift or state commission. Standard language authorizing the "Superintendent to install…" has proven time and again to be misinterpreted by sponsoring parties who read this to mean that he will procure the artwork. This language should not be used to avoid confusion. This is also why the source of the memorial must be stated in the legislation. If a commission, the language should state the agency responsible for commissioning the artwork. This agency will be responsible for working with artists/fabricators, and presenting designs, specifications, etc. to the Art Commission for review. Legislative appropriations should be carefully considered, in that the design, review, and fabrication process usually extends beyond the fiscal calendar.

  • The design and content are subject to review and approval by the Art Commission (G. L. 6, sec. 20)

Other considerations:

1) Medium or location does not need to be identified - these criteria often limit sponsors in commissioning innovative artwork.

2) Whether gift or commission, sponsors and legislators should research the fiscal impact considerations of proposals. Legislators should confirm that an appropriate budget is available to fund artist's rendering, fabrication, delivery and installation of artwork, and maintenance in the case of outdoor sculpture, which is particularly vulnerable to environmental conditions.

  • The Art Commission encourages sponsors to commission original art from practicing artists, architects or other designers in order to present to the Art Commission a design that is original, conservationally sound, and aesthetically pleasing.