Show Him the Money: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Is Holding an Open Call for Artist-Designed Coins

But don't expect this to endear the Trump appointee and former MoCA board member to the art world.

President Trump's Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, leaving Trump Tower in New York in 2016. Photo credit KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images.

The United States Mint has issued an open call for artists to design the nation’s coins and medals as part of its its Artistic Infusion Program. The government is particularly interested in artists who will “bring innovative perspectives and utilize symbolism in their work to clearly and evocatively convey subjects and themes,” according to the program’s press release.

Who will have the final say on the submissions? None other than Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a former hedge-fund mogul and son of Manhattan art dealer Robert Mnuchin. Steven was also previously a board member at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, but stepped down after seven years to accept President Trump’s nomination to the treasury post.

United States Mint sculptor-engraver Phebe Hemphill finalizes design details on a plaster sculpt. Photo courtesy of the US Mint.

United States Mint sculptor-engraver Phebe Hemphill finalizes design details on a plaster sculpt. Photo courtesy of the US Mint.

“Although designs begin as an illustration, artists must think three-dimensionally as they create coin and medal designs that will be translated into bas-relief sculpture,” the guidelines say. “Artists must take into consideration relief, depth, negative space, and the type of metal that will bear the design.”

US Mint artists submit their design proposals as line art, which are then sculpted at oversize scale by one of four official sculptor/engravers before being reduced to the proper size for a metallic die, featuring an inverse of the image used to strike the final coin.

Applications for are open September 3 to October 29 and interested parties must submit five to 10 portfolio samples. They must also be US citizens and working artists who earn at least part of their income from their practice]. Finalists receive $2,000 to $3,000 per assignment and will be awarded a $5,000 bonus if their designs are selected for a coin or medal.

Line art and the metallic die used for striking the 2018 America the Beautiful Quarter for Block Island National Wildlife Refuge located in Rhode Island, designed by Chris Costello and sculpted by Phebe Hemphill. Photo courtesy of the US Mint.

Line art and the metallic die used for striking the 2018 America the Beautiful Quarter for Block Island National Wildlife Refuge located in Rhode Island, designed by Chris Costello and sculpted by Phebe Hemphill. Photo courtesy of the US Mint.

Steven Mnuchin likely has more artistic credentials than his predecessors in the treasury. On the LA MOCA board, he served alongside artist trustees Mark BradfordBarbara Kruger, and Catherine Opie, while his father’s gallery has recently staged exhibitions by Cindy Sherman, David Hammons, and Sean Scully.

However, he has been heavily criticized in the art world in recent years for his right-wing pro-Trump policies (as well as his wife, Louise Linton’s, crudely classist social-media presence). In 2016, when Mnuchin joined Trump’s campaign as a finance adviser, New York Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz announced on Facebook that he was boycotting the family’s gallery: “Now that Mnuchin’s son Steven Mnuchin, of Goldman Sachs, is ‘Make America HATE Again’ Donald Trump’s Campaign Finance Chief—I’m not going to Mnuchin Gallery anymore.”

Though Mnuchin has the final say over which artists get to work the the US Mint, he will make his selections based on recommendations from a Technical Evaluation Panel, featuring experts from the US Commission of Fine Arts, Citizens Coinage Advisory Committee, and the Mint’s coin design staff.

New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Breast Cancer Research Foundation president and CEO Myra Biblowit unveiling the winning design by Emily Damstra for the Breast Cancer Awareness Commemorative Coin Design Competition. Photo courtesy of the US Mint.

New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Breast Cancer Research Foundation president and CEO Myra Biblowit unveiling the winning design by Emily Damstra for the Breast Cancer Awareness Commemorative Coin Design Competition. Photo courtesy of the US Mint.

Chosen artists could be designing for a variety of new coinage. Occasionally, the Mint introduces new art for its currency, such as in 2006, when a new portrait of Thomas Jefferson by Jamie Franki was introduced for the nickel. Felix Schlag designed the original Jefferson nickel, minted from 1938 to 2004, and his reverse featuring Monticello is still on the coin today.

Since 1999, the Mint has also introduced new designs each year for the tails side of the quarter, first featuring all 50 states, then the District of Columbia and the country’s overseas territories, and, since 2010, national parks and sites. Called the America the Beautiful Quarters, the series introduces five new coin designs each year, and is scheduled to continue through 2021 with an option to extend to 2032

Next year’s quarters include Guam’s War in the Pacific National Historic Park and Massachusetts’s Lowell National Historical Park, with designs unveiled earlier this month. Other possibilities include more limited-release commemorative coins, such as a series promoting breast cancer awareness, featuring a design by Emily Damstra unveiled by New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney in November.


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