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Boston Art Commission records

Identifier: 0272.100

This collection includes records of the Boston Art Commission from 1890-1959. It also includes several published reference volumes on art. The Art Commission records have been organized into 5 series: Series I: Proceedings, Series II: Annual reports, Series III: Memorials, Series IV: Plans and Series V: Reference works.

Series I includes 6 volumes of the minutes of the meetings of the Art Commission from its establishment in 1890 through January of 1959. The minutes are not indexed. The minutes from 1959 to the present remain in the custody of the Art Commission.

Series II includes three bound volumes of published annual reports of the Art Department from 1899-1945. Inventories of art owned by the City of Boston can be found in several annual reports. The annual reports can also be found in the Boston City Documents.

Series III includes memorials published for the dedication of various monuments and statues in the City of Boston.

Series IV includes plans drawn up in 1953 for a proposed "New Copley Square". The Art Commission was informed by the Traffic Commission that a new traffic layout was planned for the square and they requested plans to give the resulting new square a setting worthy of its surroundings.

Series V includes publications kept in the Art Commission library for reference purposes.


  • 1890-1959



3.25 Cubic feet (28 volumes and 1 portfolio)

Historical note

The Boston Art Commission, originally established in 1890, is the oldest municipal art commission in the United States. Chapter 122 of the Acts of 1890 established an 5 member Art Commission consisting of the Mayor, President of the Trustees of the Public Library, President of the Trustees of the Museum of Fine Arts, President of the Boston Society of Architects and President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Chapter 122 of the Acts of 1890 was repealed by Chapter 410 of the Acts of 1898 which established the Art Department in charge of a Board of Commissioners appointed by the Mayor without confirmation. The Mayor selected the five members from lists of three each submitted by the Museum of Fine Arts, Trustees of the Boston Public Library, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston Art Club and the Boston Society of Architects. No work of art could become the property of the city without the approval of the Art Department and all contracts or orders for the execution of any painting, monument, statue, bust, bas-relief or other sculpture were to be made by the Board. Chapter 87 of the Acts of 1919 placed under exclusive control of the Art Commission all works of art owned by the City of Boston.

The Art Department ceased to exist by the passage of Chapter 8 of the Ordinances of 1953 which created an Art Commission as a board in the Administrative Services Department. The Art Commission retained all the power and duties conferred or imposed by law on the Board of Art Commissioners in existence prior to the taking effect of Chapter 8 of the Ordinances of 1953. The Art Commission was not subject to supervision of the Administrative Services Board.

In 1982, the Art Commission was brought together with five other commissions to form the Environment Department (Chapter 624 of the Acts of 1982). This act’s purpose was to coordinate the related concerns of all six commissions and streamline the use of each body’s staff resources. Under the Environment Department, the Art Commission (as well as the other five) retained its independence to carry out its statutory obligations. In 1986, the Art Commission was reorganized as a board within the Office of Arts and Humanities (Section 2 of Chapter 4 of the Ordinances of 1986). The Mayor appoints the Art Commission; it consists of five Boston residents, each representing a Boston cultural institution. The Boston Art Commission exercises legal authority to approve and site new public art on property owned by the City of Boston. In addition, the Art Commission preserves and protects all monuments, paintings, statues, fountains and memorials on City property.

Related Archival Materials note

Minutes, 1959 to the present, and all monument files remain in the custody of the Art Commission.

Existence and Location of Copies note

Microfilm copies of Boston Art Commission records are available through the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. 20560.

Guide to the Boston Art Commission records
Kristen Swett
October 2, 2009

Repository Details

Part of the Boston City Archives Repository

201 Rivermoor St.
West Roxbury MA 02132 United States
617-635-1194 (Fax)