Art Workers: Interview with Tommy Gregory

This interview is the first in a series about labor in art, a kind of “how the sausage gets made” of the visual world. We’re starting close to home (in fact inside my home) with my partner Tommy Gregory, who is the Sr. Project Manager for the Port of Seattle’s Public Art Program, at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and has 10 years of experience in the field between San Antonio, Houston, and Seattle. The first in this series is a Q & A interview about the history of art in airports, and a status update on the current state of regulations and funding. The next interview, in one month, will cover information specifically for artists who want to know how the process works for them. The final (two months from now) will be a look toward the future.

**if there’s an art profession you’d like to see interviewed here, please suggest in the comments. I would like to make this a regular feature of the blog. 


Tommy: Recently I flew to DC to take part in a panel. Because this is government, there were a lot of acronyms. The panel was with the TRB (Transportation Research Board) through the ACRP (Airport Cooperative Research Program) in collaboration with the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration, primarily responsible for making sure the country’s aviation is safe). A select group of professional arts’ administrators from around the country met to discuss art in airports. This is the first time that an official book of guidelines is being created focusing on best practices and a scope for how to successfully manage a public art program within our nation’s airports.

Casey: How much more time are people spending (on average) in airports since 9/11?

Tommy: As much as two hours more per trip

C: What emotions do people typically experience during travel?

T: Predominantly stress.

C: How do you think art can help with that?

T: Art (free visual culture) should be a thought provoking respite from stress.

C: How did we get the system that we currently have for public art? A hodgepodge of funding structures and sometimes spotty quality of works or spotty maintenance of those works?

T: Art collectors and advocates made the initial push to bring painting, sculptures, etc  to the table. The current funding structure is through Capital Improvement Projects % for art. Traditionally, it’s about 1-2% of the total CIP budget.

Aviation Public Art programs are still refining their procedural guidelines. Each airport has different cultural departments governing process. But we are all (airports) working within certain levels of FAA regulations (as far as diversion of funds.)

C: So does the FAA say anything specific about the way those art funds are going to be used in the airport? (i.e. for permanent works or temporary ones, for portable collection or built in installation)  If no, where do those rules come from?

T: No the FAA is pretty hands off with art, you know, they definitely have different priorities.

In Houston the ordinance was written by the MAC, municipal arts commission and approved  by the city council members back in 1999. Here in Seattle, I don’t know who wrote the original guidelines, but since they have been modified or further restructured by my predecessors and then the art oversight committee; two commissioners as members.

C: So what was the outcome of your DC trip?

T: By January 2020 they should have a full report that will specify guidelines and help elevate the standards of aviation departments around the country in regards to public art. The hope would be that now that there’s a “handbook” written in coordination with the FAA this should make airport directors take a professional position, as far as subject matter experts, in the hiring of public art administrators. You’ll have professionals in the industry helping make these public art decisions.   

C: So is this going to help standardize the process?

T: Yes, I also think it’ll help raise the standards so public art doesn’t get handed off to somebody in marketing or advertising. It’ll elevate the position and make it as integral to the airport as the fueling systems or the bathrooms.


Related links:

Airport Art: Complying with FAA Grant Assurances

The Next-Generation Airport is a Destination in Its Own Right

One thought on “Art Workers: Interview with Tommy Gregory

  1. It’s super cool to get an insiders thoughts on things. I love the response “Art (free visual culture) should be a thought provoking respite from stress.”

    I’m a fan of the interview. My suggestions would include an Art Handler, a fabricator, An Art Consultant, A collector, a Gallerist, or an Art Center Director.

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