The historic mission and activities of the Office of Program Support date back to the mid-1940s, when the Department of State administered United States exhibition activities overseas. In 1954 this activity was transferred to the United States Information Agency (USIA). The USIA organized and circulated art exhibitions abroad and, in the years immediately preceding 1965, supported American participation in international art shows.
In November 1965, the Smithsonian Institution and the USIA agreed that the Smithsonian would assume the responsibility for an international exchange program of art exhibitions; support American entries in international art exhibitions, in particular, the Venice and Sao Paulo biennials; and service the United States Information Services' field requests, when possible. The USIA would continue to be responsible for national exhibitions presented in the Soviet Union and East European countries.
The International Art Program (IAP), the office responsible for the USIA activities in this area, was transferred to the control of the National Collection of Fine Arts (NCFA). Three program employees were detailed to NCFA. The USIA agreed to continue providing financial assistance for projects begun before the program transfer had been made.
In July 1966, IAP personnel, Lois A. Bingham, Chief, Margaret P. Cogswell, Deputy Chief, and William M. Dunn, Exhibits Officer, became permanent NCFA staff members.
Between 1965 and 1970, most of the exhibition budget for IAP was directed to the large international shows, most notably the biennials. After the threatened boycott of American artists at the Venice biennial in 1970, the Smithsonian began considering its role in the international art shows, not wanting to get involved in politics and the consequences of such activity in its relations with artists. At the same time, the USIA no longer felt that the international shows were the most useful means of reaching audiences abroad. As a result, both agreed that IAP would provide smaller exhibitions for USIA use - a minimum of six a year. NCFA, however, continued to assist American entries in the larger international shows by encouraging private institutions to provide support for them.
In 1973, IAP became the Office of Exhibitions Abroad (OEA), reflecting the changes in its mission. Lois Bingham continued as Chief of OEA.
By 1976-1977, OEA's funding and budgetary support for packaging shows for USIA was waning. In 1977, the Office title was changed to the Office of Program Support, with Bingham as Chief of the Office. The program of the new office became more restrictive, working with NCFA staff in assisting and developing NCFA projects. For other types of exhibitions, the Office was to seek outside financial support. In fiscal year 1980, Bingham became Coordinator of Program Support; and by the end of 1981 the Office ceased all operations.
These records provide detailed documentation on the administrative as well as exhibition activities carried out by USIA, IAP, and OEA from 1954 through 1981. Exhibition records include correspondence with embassies, working committees, organizers, artists; fund-raising letters; loan agreements; condition reports; exhibition reports and catalogs; press releases and newspaper clippings; photographs of artwork, installations, and publicity material (ambassadors, artists, and local committees), as well as biographies of artists involved with the shows. In addition, there are color slides, tape recordings, and film covering some of the exhibitions. Well documented are the Sao Paulo biennial and the Venice biennial dating from 1955 and 1964, respectively.
Administrative records include correspondence and memoranda, histories of the programs, USIA and Smithsonian agreements, and information on the office reorganizations. There is also information on program planning, budgetary material, travel policy, and trips taken by the staff. In addition, there are records on exhibitions sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art and the USIA, resource files broken down by collections and collectors, and professional art organizations, staff meeting notes, and personal diaries.