Artifact Display Project - CODAworx

Artifact Display Project

Submitted by Gail Goldman

Client: San Diego County

Location: San Diego, CA, United States

Completion date: 2012

Artwork budget: $222,000

Project Team


James Robbins

RJC Architects

Art Consultant

Gail Goldman

Gail M. Goldman Associates


Robert Reitenour


The Artifact Display Project is a series of informative and custom designed displays that herald San Diego County Department achievements and enhance public spaces in the new County Operations Center office buildings. The displays include County-owned and staff donated memorabilia, ephemera, and vintage items that are obsolete or still in use, actual or digital. Included are logos, letterheads, maps, photographs, newspaper articles, old documents, scale drawings and models, signage and plaques, old parts and tools, antique office and lab equipment, hard hats, patches, badges, promotional gifts, and service awards, etc.


The new County Operations Center resulted in the relocation of 2,400 County employees from office space that had been occupied since the 1960s. The County knew there were valuable artifacts that might be misplaced and destroyed during the move, although the range and quantity of items was unknown. Artist Jay Johnson, with assistance from public history researcher David Richardson, worked with more than 50 current and retired County department heads and staff and combed through a myriad of closets, boxes, and storage facilities filled with artifacts never before inventoried or archived. What they found was a treasure trove of information that collectively tells the story of the history of County government.

Open to the interpretation of the viewer, each assemblage of artifacts, documents, and photographs provide a glimpse into the people and activities of County government since the 1850’s. With an eye on the aesthetic and on non-traditional methods of presentation, Jay Johnson created a unique display for each elevator lobby on all four floors of the four new office buildings, two renovated facilities, and the Medical Examiner and Forensic Center for a total of 20 installations averaging 200 square feet each.


Unconventional and deliberately non-didactic, the installations are infused with the artist’s aesthetic, humor, and respect for the County’s past. The content of each assemblage relates to the department located on the floor. They feature a wide array of objects salvaged from demolished County building ranging from a land deed with an original signature of President Abraham Lincoln to a large hairball from a wild pig.

It was incumbent on the artist to inspire each department to provide him with access to people and places that normally are unavailable to non-County employees. He maintained relationships with key stakeholders throughout the two year project, gaining a thorough understanding of the work of each department and unprecedented authorization to access and use the items he found.

The County provided the artist with a large storage area where he collected, documented, and organized every item. This is where he worked, holding court with County staff and project architect and developer, soliciting input throughout the development of each display. This included the coordination of special lighting and site preparations.

It is because of the artist that these important records were found, preserved, and made available to the public -- the first County archive of historically significant pieces.

Additional Information

As an integral part of the newly-built County Operations Center, San Diego County commissioned and purchased a collection of 22 works of art by 14 artists totaling $1.7M. The new office campus is built on the footprint of the existing 47-acre operations center, providing an integrated and full-service facility for employees and residents visiting on business. Consultant Gail Goldman created the overall art plan for the new complex prior to construction and identified artists for consideration by the selection committee. The project won the coveted 2012 People’s Choice Orchid for successful integration of architecture, landscape, sustainable design, and artwork.