When the Oregon State Capitol started a major expansion back in 1975, lawmakers created a program that would have a lasting effect on their new digs. Known as Percent for Art, the basic idea was that at least one percent of total construction dollars for a given project had to go towards art.
This was one of the first statewide programs of its kind in the country — it’s pretty common now — and choosing art for Capitol was its first charge. A committee was set up, and a few years later 170 paintings and sculptures had been assembled, most of them contemporary works by living Oregonian artists. (A separate committee created a collection of photographs, called “Oregon in the 20th Century.”)
The works were taken down in 2008, when the building went through another renovation. State arts administrators took the opportunity for restoration, appraisals (a collection that had cost about $90,000 was found to be worth ten times more), and a few new acquisitions. The work was reinstalled at the beginning of the current legislative session. So, the state’s corridors of power are once again lined with photographs and paintings depicting Oregon’s places, people, and personal visions — whether or not lawmakers are paying attention.
This story is told in a great catalog (pdf) that was put together recently by the Oregon Arts Commission.
If you’ve worked or lobbied or lingered in the Capitol, have you noticed the art? Did any works stand out? The original selection jury saw its job as purchasing “artworks that were and would remain significant to Oregon’s history.” Do you think they succeeded? What would you select?
Note: you can see a few selections from the Capitol Art Collection on our Facebook page.
- MEAGAN ATIYEH: Visual Arts Coordinator for the Oregon Arts Commission
- FRANKIE BELL: Senate chamber receptionist, and a guest on our show (mp3) back in March