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Artwork brings culture to life at courthouses 

Artwork brings culture to life at courthouses 

Seven mosaic works by artist Ellen Driscoll grace the outside walls of the new courthouse annex, allowing all who pass to view snippets of everyday life in North Carolina. Credit: Sean Busher.

Several new courthouses coming online as a result of a $948 million investment by Congress in recent years are getting an aesthetic touch thanks to the federal government’s Art in Architecture program, according to a post on the website. 

Run by the General Services Administration (GSA), the agency responsible for building courthouses and other federal buildings, the program makes it possible to display museum-quality artwork in places frequented by the public “to create a lasting cultural legacy for the nation,” the GSA says. 

“At their best, public art projects at courthouses invite those who are passing by or through the courthouse to pause and reflect on that art. It may draw a smile or an angling of the head,” said U.S. District Judge Jeffrey J. Helmick, who chairs the Judicial Conference’s Space and Facilities Committee. “The projects can reflect the history and flavor of the region. They can honor the identity of the community in a way to make its residents proud. And they can tie a federal building to the very local community in which it sits.”  

The artists are chosen from a National Artist Registry, a database of American artists who have submitted samples of their work to be reviewed by panels of experts for possible selection. Artists who receive commissions work with the building architects and others in a collaborative design team to integrate the artwork into the overall plan for a building. The program is funded by setting aside one half of 1 percent of a project’s estimated construction cost for the art. 

Charlotte, N.C. 

The Charles R. Jonas Federal Building underwent a major renovation and an annex was added to the circa 1918 structure, work that is slated to be completed in the fall.  Brooklyn-based artist Ellen Driscoll created a seven-panel mosaic for the exterior of the annex, with each panel depicting historically significant aspects of life in the Western District of North Carolina. 

There are representations of a U.S. Mint office, a postal carrier, children in school, and a military recruitment center where a soldier is shown saluting an American flag. A strand of garland appears at the top of each panel, serving to unite the seven pieces in a single story of the region, anchored by Charlotte. 

“The seven mosaics are amazing, and they are especially beautiful when lit at night,” said Judge Robert J. Conrad, Jr., the building renovation and project judge for the court. “I believe it will become an iconic part of the city.” 


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