Management of Artwork:

Steps Taken to Preserve and Protect Bureau of Reclamation's Collection

RCED-92-92: Published: Feb 28, 1992. Publicly Released: Apr 1, 1992.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO examined how the Bureau of Reclamation managed commissioned paintings and drawings of its water projects in the West, focusing on how Reclamation accounted for and controlled, protected and preserved, and displayed and stored the art.

GAO found that: (1) according to the index cards used to track the receipt and disposition of the pieces, Reclamation has 352 pieces of commissioned artwork to record the role of water in the West, but the location of 153 pieces, about 40 percent of the collection, is unknown; (2) a March 1990 appraisal of 196 pieces in the collection estimated its total value to be about $1.7 million; (3) beginning in 1987, Reclamation made various efforts to identify and locate artwork, including searching Department of the Interior and Reclamation offices, conducting annual inventories, and updating index cards and property records; (4) Reclamation believes that the missing artwork has been lost or stolen and that many of the missing pieces may have been preliminary works returned to the artists; (5) although Reclamation has not always properly cared for its artwork, few pieces are seriously damaged; (6) factors contributing to the art collection's deterioration include storage or display in poor environmental conditions, improper framing, and inadequate handling and storage; (7) Reclamation estimated the cost of restoring the collection at about $250,000; (8) Reclamation designated a locked, windowless, air-conditioned room for storing the half of its artwork collection that is not on display; and (9) Reclamation does not have policies or procedures for displaying its artwork in public facilities or for loaning its artwork.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: BOR issued interim policies and procedures regarding the display or loan of items in its artwork collection on September 4, 1992, pending the issuance of final guidelines by Interior, scheduled for publication in calendar year 1993.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of the Interior should direct the Commissioner of Reclamation to: (1) determine the most appropriate approaches to publicly display or loan out pieces of Reclamation's artwork collection; and (2) develop the procedures to implement those approaches, taking into consideration the necessity of maintaining accountability for and control over the art pieces.

    Agency Affected: Department of the Interior


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