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The Congressional Arts Caucus and the Congressional Art Competition: History and Current Practice

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The Congressional Arts Caucus and the Congressional Art Competition: History and Current Practice

Updated August 23, 2018October 11, 2019 (R42487)
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Sponsored by the Congressional Arts Caucus, and known in recent years as "An Artistic Discovery," the Congressional Art Competition is open to high school students nationwide. Begun in 1982, the competition, based in congressional districts, provides the opportunity for Members of Congress to encourage and recognize the artistic talents of their young constituents. Since its inception, more than 650,000 high school students nationwide have been involved in the program.

Each year, the art of one student per participating congressional district is selected to represent the district. The culmination of the competition is the yearlong display of winning artwork in the Cannon House Office Building tunnel as well as on the House of Representatives' website.

This report provides a brief history of the Congressional Arts Caucus and the Congressional Art Competition. It also provides a history of sponsorship and support for the caucus and the annual competition. The report includes copies of the original correspondence establishing the competition, a sample competition announcement, sample guidelines and required forms for the competition, and a chronological list of congressional co-chairs.


Congressional Arts Caucus

Representative Frederick Richmond reportedly began forming what became the Congressional Arts Caucus in response to proposals by the Reagan Administration to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the defeat of other prominent arts advocates in Congress.1 Within days, 77 Members of the House of Representatives had joined the caucus,2 and by the start of the 98th Congress (January 1983), House membership had grown to 166 Members—reportedly one of the largest caucuses on Capitol Hill at that time.3 Representative Richmond served as the first chairman and Representative Jim Jeffords as the first vice-chairman.4 (See Table C-1 for a list of the chairs.)

Congressional Art Competition

In July 1981, on behalf of the Congressional Arts Caucus, Representative Richmond proposed to the Speaker of the House, Representative Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., a program for encouraging nationwide artistic creativity by high school students through art exhibits in the tunnels connecting the Capitol to the House Office Buildings.

In October 1981, Speaker O'Neill, in his role as chair of the House Office Building Commission,5 indicated no objection to an exhibit as long as it was conducted at no expense to the government. The Speaker further required that the Arts Caucus work with the House Office Building Commission and the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) on the details and to ensure that a jury of qualified people approves the final selection of student art for the exhibit. A detailed proposal for the manner of display of the artwork was also requested. (See Figure A-1, letter from Speaker O'Neill to Representative Richmond.)

In February 1982, the AOC sent a letter to the chairman of the House Office Building Commission in which he submitted the proposal for the National Art Competition program as prepared by the Arts Caucus. In the letter, the AOC expressed his approval and recommended that the House Office Building Commission do the same. (See Figure A-2, letter from AOC George M. White to Chairman O'Neill.) The letter includes the signatures of all three of the House Office Building Commission members.

Subsequently, on February 9, 1982, Speaker O'Neill and several members of the Arts Caucus announced the first annual Congressional Art Competition. Representative Richmond said, about the competition, that "members of Congress would conduct the contest among high school students in their districts. The winning art will line a corridor in the Capitol."6


No legislation has been introduced to authorize, sanction, or otherwise make permanent the Congressional Art Competition. On July 23, 1991, H.Res. 201 (102nd Congress, first session) was introduced by the Congressional Art Competition co-chair, Representative Ted Weiss, to recognize the 10th anniversary of the competition. On November 18, 1991, the resolution was agreed to by voice vote.7 The only other piece of legislation was H.Res. 1453 (111th Congress, second session) introduced by the Congressional Art Competition co-chair, Representative Steve Driehaus, to celebrate the 29th anniversary of the competition. This resolution was introduced on June 17, 2010, and referred to the Committee on House Administration with no further action.8

Recent Exhibit History

Throughout the competition's history, reportedly, a few submitted artworks have been removed as part of a controversy or otherwise. In 2012, an entry submitted to the Illinois Fourth Congressional District for the Congressional Art Competition was the subject of a controversy before being selected as the district winner. A Chicago high school student entered a city-wide competition to determine the next city vehicle sticker. Days before the city was to print 1.2 million new stickers, allegations surfaced on a number of police blogs claiming the design displayed gang signs and other symbols of the Maniac Latin Disciples street gang. The city decided not to use the artwork. It was subsequently entered into the Congressional Art Competition for the IL-04 congressional district. The artwork won the district competition and hung in the Cannon Tunnel for a full year without objection.9

Prior to the 2016-2017 Congressional Art Competition, the federal government, in a court filing, identified only one other occasion when a piece of art was removed after it was put on display as part of the competition; the work appeared to be a copy of a photograph that had appeared that year in Vogue magazine.10 In two other identified instances prior to the 2016-2017 competition, when suitability questions arose and the AOC reached out to the sponsoring Member of Congress, the Member agreed to submit another piece.11

During the 2016-2017 competition, an AOC-convened panel reviewed submissions and identified two works that raised suitability concerns, one titled "Recollection," which depicts a young man with apparent bullet holes in his back, and the other depicting marijuana use by Bob Marley. Consistent with its usual practice, AOC staff contacted the sponsoring Member'' offices regarding these works, and the Members indicated they supported the works' display. Both of these works were displayed.12.

Artwork for the 2016 Congressional Art Competition went on public exhibit in May 2016. In early December 2016, letters from Members of Congress and the Capitol Police requesting the removal of the winning entry from Missouri's 1st Congressional District were sent to Speaker Paul Ryan and AOC Stephen T. Ayres. The artwork was viewed by some as violating suitability guidelines in the rules for the competition, as it depicted law enforcement officers as animals abusing protesters.

Subsequently, the artwork was repeatedly removed and re-hung in the Cannon Tunnel to the Capitol by various Members of Congress. An administrative decision to prohibit the painting was made by Architect Ayers, which triggered the filing of an injunction in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on behalf of the artist, claiming violation of First Amendment rights.13 In April 2017, a judge in the District Court for the District of Columbia denied the plaintiffs' injunction, ruling that due to the public location of the artwork in a tunnel connecting the U.S. Capitol to a House office building, the art was government speech and that Members of Congress who objected to the content had a right to remove it. The artwork continued to be banned from display until May 2017 when all artwork from that competition year was removed.14

Administrative and Financial Support

The House Ethics Manual addresses the issue of the appropriateness of congressional involvement in the Art Competition in the section on "Official and Outside Organizations." House ethics rules generally prohibit endeavors jointly supported by a combination of private resources and official funds. For example, House Rule 24 prohibits the use of private resources for the operation of both congressional Member organizations (CMOs) and Member advisory groups. Yet, the House Ethics Manual goes on to explain that, "Nevertheless, the giving of advice by informal advisory groups to a Member does not constitute the type of private contribution of funds, goods, or in-kind services to the support of congressional operations that is prohibited by House Rule 24."15 Later the Ethics Manual specifically addresses the Congressional Art Competition in the following:

"One instance when cooperation with private groups has been explicitly recognized is the annual competition among high school students in each congressional district to select a work of art to hang in the Capitol, referred to as the Congressional Art Competition. Members may announce their support for the competition in official letters and news releases, staff may provide administrative assistance, a local arts organization or ad hoc committee may select the winner, and a corporation may underwrite costs such as prizes and flying the winner to Washington, D.C. Private involvement with the Congressional Art Competition in this manner is not viewed as a subsidy of normal operations of the congressional office. Members may not solicit on behalf of the arts competition in their district without Standards Committee [now Committee on Ethics] permission unless the organization to which the donation will be directed is qualified under § 170(c) of the Internal Revenue Code."16

The general guidelines concerning Member solicitations is stated in the Ethics Manual,17 and solicitation guidelines as related to the Art Competition are addressed in the "Ethics Guidance" document for the 20182019 Congressional Art Competition.18

In their earliest years, the Congressional Arts Caucus and Congressional Art Competition were financially supported by a $300 contribution from the allowances of members of the caucus. The funds were used to pay the salaries of two full-time staff and other operational costs.19 During the period 1982 to 1994, the caucus used its staff and interns to manage administrative duties related to the competition, such as announcements, guidelines, deadlines, the receipt of completed forms and art, and recordkeeping. These individuals also coordinated the art competition's awards program and reception to honor the winning artists. After 1995, many administrative tasks were undertaken by two Member offices—typically the offices of the co-chairs of the Arts Caucus.

From the competition's inception, the AOC curator and the House superintendent have assisted with the moving, arranging, labeling, and hanging of the art works, as well as returning the art to participating Members' offices at the end of a competition—this is done in May of each year just prior to the commencement of a new competition. The curator also arranges the winning artwork alphabetically by state, maintains a tracking system, works with the House carpenters to have the artwork hung in the Cannon House Office Building tunnel, and prepares and attaches the accompanying descriptive labels.

In 2005, General Motors, which had provided financial and logistical support to the Art Competition since 1982, asked the Public Governance Institute to assist with logistical support. In 2009, the Congressional Institute, Inc.20 took over from the Public Governance Institute, providing both advice and logistical support for the competition. According to its website, the Congressional Institute was founded in 1987 and "is a not-for-profit corporation dedicated to helping Members of Congress better serve their constituents and helping their constituents better understand the operations of the national legislature."21

Current Operating Practice and Procedures for the Congressional Art Competition

Currently, each participating House Member solicits entries from high school students for the event and establishes his or her own method of judging the submissions. There is no entry fee for the competition and previous entrants (including winners) may re-enter as long as they are high school students.

The winning artwork must conform to strict guidelines and meet all deadlines. By mid-February of each year, the Art Competition guidelines and forms to accompany the submitted art are available to the public on the House of Representatives website at https://www.house.gov/content/educate/art_competition. It is the prerogative of the co-chairs, the House Office Building Commission, the AOC curator, or the Congressional Institute, Inc., to modify the guidelines from year to year.

Two sets of guidelines are available:

  • The "20182019 Rules and Regulations for Congressional Offices" (shown as Figure B-1, unavailable electronically).
  • The "2018). This guideline is not available electronically to the general public. The "2019 Rules and Regulations for Students and Teachers" can be found on the House of Representatives public website at https://www.house.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/2018Rulesfor
    StudentsandTeachers.pdf (shown as Figure B-2)2019-Rules-for-Students-and-Teachers.pdf .

The "Student Information & Release Form" is available at https://www.house.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/2018StudentReleaseForm2019-Student-Release-Form-Fillable.pdf (shown as Figure B-3), and a "20182019 Art Submission Checklist" is shown as Figure B-4 (unavailable electronically to the general public).22).

Since 2009, the Congressional Institute, Inc. has assisted and advised Member offices on how to run the competition. The institute responds to questions from participants, collects district winner information, prepares the list of winners, organizes the receipt of the artwork, and shares coordination of the reception honoring the district winners. The institute also photographs the artwork and provides a digital record of each annual competition to the House of Representatives for posting on its public website.2223 It has been the practice for the Congressional Institute to mail the invitations, print the programs, and provide food for the annual reception.

The reception, transportation, name tags, T-shirts, photography, event website, and program printing have always been privately sponsored. Recent corporate sponsors have included General Motors and Southwest Airlines. Members of Congress may also obtain the services of local sponsors to assist with transportation and local awards.

At the culmination of the annual Art Competition, the winning entries from participating congressional districts are available on the House of Representatives website. The names of the 2018 winners and their artwork are available at https://www.conginst.org/art-competition/?compYear=2018&state=allCongressional Institute website at http://congressionalinstitute.org/2019-winners. The Congressional Art Competition co-chairs generally invite an artist from their respective congressional districts to address the student winners at the reception.

Since it began in 1982, "over 650,000 high school students nationwide have been involved with the nation-wide competition."23


Prizes and Scholarships

There are no required procedures for selecting the winning entries for participating congressional districts. Any entry that conforms to the general specifications stated in the "Guidelines for Students and Teachers" is eligible to represent a congressional district. Members of Congress may have local art teachers, art gallery owners, civic leaders, local businesses, or Member office staff assist with the judging to select their district winner.

Members of Congress may also enlist the participation of businesses in the congressional district to donate plaques, savings bonds, and other prizes, or to sponsor a reception or event to announce the competition's district winner. For example, since 2004, the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, GA, has offered scholarship opportunities to the first-place winners of the district competitions as long as funding is available, according to school sources. The $3,000 scholarship may be renewed annually.2425

Other scholarships are targeted for winning entrants from a specific congressional district. In recent years, these have included scholarships to the High School Summer Institute at Chicago's Columbia College and the Art Institute of Phoenix. Georgia's 13th congressional district winner may receive a scholarship to the Art Institute of Atlanta, in Pennsylvania, the 15th congressional district winner ishas been eligible for a full-year scholarship to the Baum School of Art in Allentown, and Tennessee 3rd congressional district participants arehave been eligible for a $3,000 scholarship to Tennessee Wesleyan University in Athens, TN.25


Additional prizes that have been awarded include roundtrip airfare to Washington, DC, for the opening of the annual exhibition, gift certificates to local art supply stores, family memberships for a year to an art museum, and cash. Although no congressional or taxpayer funds may be used for prizes or scholarships, corporate sponsorship is allowed.

As inIn past years, Southwest Airlines is providinghas provided two roundtrip tickets to winning entrants from any city with scheduled Southwest service to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport or Baltimore-Washington's Thurgood Marshall International Airport (BWI).2627 Tickets will be issued to a parent or guardian as ePasses and are to be used within the period of two weeks before and two weeks after the Washington, DC, Congressional Art Competition ceremony. Southwest Airlines does not provide hotel accommodations or hotel discounts.

Appendix A. Letters Establishing the Congressional Art Competition

Figure A-1. Letter from House Office Building Commission Chairman Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. to Representative Fred Richmond

Source: Architect of the Capitol (AOC) curator's office.

Figure A-2. Letter from AOC George White to Chairman Thomas O'Neill Jr.

Source: AOC curator's office.

Note: Attached in the upper right corner is the routing slip that accompanied the letter.

Appendix B. Congressional Art Competition Sample Forms

Figure B-1. 20182019 Rules and Regulations for Congressional Offices

Source: The Congressional Institute.

Figure B-2. 20182019 Rules and Regulations for Students and Teachers

Source: U.S. House of Representatives, https://www.house.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/2018RulesforStudentsandTeachers2019/Rules-for-Students-and-Teachers.pdf.

Figure B-3. 20182019 Congressional Art Competition Form

Source: U.S. House of Representatives, https://www.house.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/documents/2018StudentReleaseForm2019/Student-Release-Form-Fillable.pdf.

Figure B-4. 20182019 Art Submission Checklist

Source: The Congressional Institute.

Appendix C. Congressional Art Competition Leadership

Table C-1. Congressional Art Competition Leadership, 1982-2018



Member Co-Chairs


1982 (97th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Fred Richmonda
Representative Jim Jeffordsb


1983 (98th Congress, 1st session)

Representative Tom Downey
Representative Jim Jeffords


1984 (98th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Tom Downey
Representative Jim Jeffords


1985 (99th Congress, 1st session)

Representative Tom Downey
Representative Jim Jeffords


1986 (99th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Tom Downey
Representative Jim Jeffords


1987 (100th Congress, 1st session)

Representative Bob Carr
Representative Jim Jeffords


1988 (100th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Bob Carr
Representative Jim Jeffords


1989 (101st Congress, 1st session)

Representative Bob Carr
Senator Jim Jeffords


1990 (101st Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Bob Carr
Senator Jim Jeffords


1991 (102nd Congress, 1st session)

Representative Ted Weiss
Senator Jim Jeffords


1992 (102nd Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Ted Weiss
Senator Jim Jeffords


1993 (103rd Congress, 1st session)

Representative Louise Slaughter
Senator Jim Jeffords


1994 (103rd Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Louise Slaughter
Senator Jim Jeffords


1995 (104th Congress, 1st session)

Senator Jim Jeffords
(Assisted by the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight staff)c


1996 (104th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative George Gekas
Representative Frank Pallone Jr.


1997 (105th Congress, 1st session)

Representative Frank Pallone Jr.
Representative Curt Weldon


1998 (105th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Neil Abercrombie
Representative Curt Weldon


1999 (106th Congress, 1st session)

Representative Adam Smith
Representative Curt Weldon


2000 (106th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Adam Smith
Representative Tom Tancredo


2001 (107th Congress, 1st session)

Representative Elijah Cummings
Representative John Shadegg


2002 (107th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Mark Foley
Representative Hilda Solis


2003 (108th Congress, 1st session)

Representative Katherine Harris
Representative Darlene Hooley


2004 (108th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Marsha Blackburn
Representative Ed Pastor


2005 (109th Congress, 1st session)

Representative Vito Fossella
Representative Linda Sánchez


2006 (109th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Susan Davis
Representative Heather Wilson


2007 (110th Congress, 1st session)

Delegate Madeleine Bordallo
Resident Commissioner Luis Fortuño


2008 (110th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Dan Boren
Representative Jeff Miller


2009 (111th Congress, 1st session)

Representative Mike Castle
Representative Rick Larsen


2010 (111th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Jason Chaffetz
Representative Steve Driehaus


2011 (112th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Donna Edwards
Representative Leonard Lance


2012 (112th Congress, 2nd session)

Representative Hansen Clarke
Representative Tim Griffin


2013 (113th Congress, 1st session)

Representative Robert Aderholt
Representative Suzanne Bonamici


2014 (113th Congress, 2nd Session)

Representative Bill Huizenga
Representative Loretta Sanchez


2015 (114th Congress, 1st Session)

Representative Lois Frankel
Representative Glenn 'GT' Thompson


2016 (114th Congress, 2nd Session)

Representative Kyrsten Sinema
Representative Joe Wilson


2017 (115th Congress, 1st Session)

Representative Mike Kelly
Representative Marcia Fudge


2018 (115th Congress, 2nd Session)

Representative Joyce Beatty

Representative Steve Stivers



2019 (116th Congress, 1st Session)

Representative French Hill

Representative Tom O'Halleran



Source: Prepared by CRS from the Congressional Yellow Book, news stories, Member websites, and information provided by the Congressional Institute, Inc.

a. Representative Richmond was the co-founder and first chairman of the Congressional Arts Caucus and the Congressional Art Competition.

b. Representative Jeffords was the co-founder and first vice-chairman of the caucus and competition.

c. Senator Jeffords was one of the original co-founders of the exhibition in 1982 when he was a Member of the House of Representatives. His association and support continued through the years. When the Legislative Service Organizations, or LSOs (caucuses) were disbanded at the start of the 104th Congress in 1995, Senator Jeffords used the services of one of the staff members of the Congressional Arts Caucus on his senatorial staff to run the program that year.

Author Contact Information

Gary Sidor, Senior Technical Information Specialist ([email address scrubbed], [phone number scrubbed])


Tim Lang and Amy Hinderliter of the Congressional Institute, Inc., provided historical information.


Information obtained in email exchanges with Congressional Institute staff in January/February 2012.


Carla Hall, "The Art of Advocacy; Fred Richmond, the Congressman Behind the House Arts Caucus," Washington Post, January 25, 1981, pp. H1, H4.




Irvin Molotsky, "Congressional Arts Caucus Thriving," New York Times, January 15, 1983, Section 1, p. 13.


For more on the history of congressional Member organizations (caucuses), see CRS Report R40683, Congressional Member Organizations (CMOs) and Informal Member Groups: Their Purpose and Activities, History, and Formation, by Matthew E. GlassmanSarah J. Eckman.


The House Office Building Commission is composed of the Speaker, who serves as chair, and the majority and minority leaders of the House.


United Press International, press release, February 10, 1982.


See https://www.congress.gov/bill/102nd-congress/house-resolution/201?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22%5C%22hres201%5C%22%22%5D%7D.


See https://www.congress.gov/bill/111th-congress/house-resolution/1453?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22%5C%22hres1453%5C%22%22%5D%7D.


"City clerk investigates: Does new city sticker have gang signs?" See http://www.onqpi.com/blog/city-clerk-investigates-does-new-city-sticker-have-gang-signs.


Pulphus v. Ayers, 249 F. Supp. 3d 241 (2017).


249 F. Supp. 3d 241 (2017).


249 F. Supp. 3d 242 (2017).


249 F. Supp 3d 238 (2017).


249 F. Supp 3d 255 (2017).


See Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, House Ethics Manual, 110th Cong., 2nd sess. 2008, Ch. 10, p. 339, available at http://ethics.house.gov/sites/ethics.house.gov/files/documents/2008_House_Ethics_Manual.pdf.


Ibid., p. 346. For more information on the history of CMOs and the rules under which they operate, see CRS Report R40683, Congressional Member Organizations (CMOs) and Informal Member Groups: Their Purpose and Activities, History, and Formation, by Matthew E. GlassmanSarah J. Eckman.


Ibid., pp. 347-349.


See https://housenet.house.gov/serving-constituents/art-competition


Irvin Molotsky, "Congressional Arts Caucus Thriving," New York Times, January 15, 1983, Section 1, p. 13.


See http://www.conginstcongressionalinstitute.org.




All four 2019 Congressional Art Competition guidance documents are available to offices of the House of Representatives at HouseNet at https://housenet.house.gov/serving-constituents/art-competition. Copies of the material are duplicated in Appendix B of the report, and, when available, publicly accessible website URLs have been provided in lieu of those from HouseNet.


See https://housenet.house.gov/serving-constituents/art-competition.


See https://www.scad.edu/admission/financial-aid-and-scholarships/scholarships/entering-students. Although the scholarship for matriculating CAC winners is not currently listed on the SCAD paged dedicated to scholarships website, Office of Financial Aid staff confirmed that the scholarship is still offered on April 19, 2018May 4, 2019.


See httphttps://www.tnwesleyan.edu/admissions/tuition-aid-scholarships/financial-aid/scholarships/other-scholarshipsscholarships/.


Southwest Community Affairs and Grassroots, [email address scrubbed], April 25, 2018May 5, 2019.