Walter Hood's Carry On. Photo credit: Pablo Mason

As a gateway to its region, San Diego International Airport shares memorable art experiences with its millions of viewers.

San Diego International Airport (SAN) started its Arts Program in 2006 to bring comforting, life-enriching art experiences to its travelers, capturing their curiosity from arrival to departure.

SAN’s Arts Program boasts three different site-specific programs: public art, temporary exhibitions and performing arts.

Travelers are not the only ones to benefit from the innovative programming. It also surprises and delights SAN’s employees, an often forgotten and invisible community.

We have the privilege of working with the SAN Arts Program here at Artwork Archive. We (virtually) sat down with Lauren Lockhart, the Arts Program Manager, to learn more about the airport’s impressive programming, why SAN is committed to the arts, and how they manage it all.

Why is it important to provide art experiences to travelers?

Lauren: We are the first and the last experience that people will have of our city. It is a great responsibility and opportunity to showcase the best of our culture. If you don’t have any knowledge of San Diego, you can walk into our airport and get a snapshot of our people and city.

We highlight local artists and institutions. Every year we have a thematic show that spotlights 15 local artists or educational groups in about 20 exhibition spaces around the airport.

Jim Campbell's The Journey. Photo credit: Frank Rogozienski

Additionally, art provides wayfinding, which is important in an airport.

The Journey (2013) by Jim Campbell is the best of example of wayfinding in SAN. It is one of the Airport Authority’s largest scale artworks.

Travelers see a ribbon of light comprised of 38,000 suspended LED pendants as they exit the checkpoint—a time when they are overwhelmed and asking themselves all of the stressful traveling questions: ‘How do I find my gate? I need to find something to eat. How much time do I have until I board?”

The 700-foot long sculpture guides people in a natural, intuitive way away from the checkpoint. The artwork has featured moving images of people swimming and birds in flight, to inspire fluid, stress-free movement for the travelers below.

What artwork in your collection best reflects San Diego’s culture?

Lauren: Walter Hood’s Carry On (2018) is the work in our collection that involved the greatest level of community engagement. It offers visitors their first taste of what San Diego is all about.

Carry On was created in collaboration with more than 80 local contributors. Hood led multiple community workshops to photograph objects of importance to participants. Hundreds of photographs are superimposed over abstracted x-rays of carry-on bags, and printed directly on glass.

Though each item has personal symbolism to an individual contributor, local visitors and international travelers alike are sure to find connections and meaning of their own among the 624 unique objects included.

The 300-foot long glass wall greets travelers as they collect their baggage at International Baggage Claim—playing on the physical connection to one’s luggage.

How do you engage SAN employees with the art collection?

Lauren: SAN’s employees are an audience that we try to think about. They are often overlooked. Baggage handlers, airline staff at the ticket counter—they all live here, all day, every day. They are an important audience for the work we do.

Hood’s piece was one of the first times that we engaged with them in a meaningful way. TSA and traffic officers participated. Hopefully they feel some ownership of that piece.

One of our metrics of success is how employees react to the pieces. When we change out display cases, I love when the security guards say ‘Why did you change out that display?’ or, ‘I am so excited that you changed the art.’

They are often in the same location for long periods. Art changes their environment.

Bringing visibility to the often-times invisible.

We focused on the security staff in Asa Mendelsohn’s Security Chorus—a video work in which they were invited to sing a song of their choosing.

The video is so charming, and has one of our traffic officers singing a song in Spanish. He’s dancing and having the best time in his uniform. It’s sweet, but also disarming to see someone in a regulatory role showing a different side of themselves.

Ueberall International's Dazzle. Photo credit: Pablo Mason

What is something that would surprise the public about your art collection?

Lauren: Ueberall International’s Dazzle in our rental car center is a one-of-a-kind piece found nowhere else in the world. The artists partnered with E Inc, based in Boston, which uses similar technology found in e-readers and adapts it for architectural use.

The work is entirely solar powered and plays a range of more than 20 unique graphic animations across 1,600 feet of the building facade. Your experience of the work is unique each time you pass it.

Why have art in a car rental hub?

Lauren: Renting cars can be a challenging part of a traveler’s journey, whether you’re trying to get in or out. It’s important to ease those moments with art whenever possible. That’s why we strive to integrate art throughout the airport campus.

I often think about what the pain points might be in an airport and ask, how can art make it better and improve the customer experience?

How does public art save your airport money?

Lauren: We save money because public art is integrated from the beginning of a construction project. We’ve been committed to commissioning work that is truly integrated into the site. We are fortunate to have support to do that from the executive, design and construction teams, and the airport’s board.

When we are involved from the earliest conceptual development of a project we can determine where the most impactful site would be to create public art. This allows us to release our artist calls out early, engage with the design team, and create something that is site-specific and can only exist at our airport.

When we hire the artist early, the architect and artists can work together and influence and inform each other. This ensures that public art is not an afterthought.

Steve Bartlett's Guillermo. Photo credit: Frank Rogozienski

Why is it important to archive your collection with an online database?

Lauren: Our collection is aging. Even works that were commissioned four to five years ago that are tech heavy need maintenance. We use Artwork Archive, an online collection management system, primarily as a conservation tool.

We have a great conservator that produces thorough reports for us. We have a shared drive, but we have to be able to access and see the reports anywhere. That’s where Artwork Archive comes in.

Artwork Archive is also an advocacy tool. It is helpful to show our account to my superiors. With maintenance records, I can easily show them what we need to do and what my budget will allow me to do.

Why did you make the switch from Filemaker Pro to Artwork Archive?

Lauren: Functionality. We were using Filemaker Pro, which was fine but didn’t offer nearly as many tools as Artwork Archive. Also, from a bandwidth perspective we had to deal with massive files on Filemaker which was challenging.

With Artwork Archive it’s easy to log in quickly and see how we treated a work in 2012. It was not as easy with Filemaker.

And, we don’t have to be on a desktop with Artwork Archive. When I am in the middle of the terminal I can make a note in my account. Simple tools are so helpful since we are in the terminals all the time.

I can’t stress enough how helpful remote access is for us. We’re lucky that our campus is so small. I can’t imagine being a municipality with miles of artwork. It’s easy to go onto a tablet, check reminders, and stay on top of a conservation issue.

What is your favorite part of Artwork Archive?

Lauren: Can I have two? Maintenance records and the Schedule. We want to make sure we are staying on top of conservation. For instance, with maintenance tracking, I know that a certain piece needs a treatment every two years. I can add a reminder every 18 months to make sure we are checking on the work. I want the reminder to come up even before I walk into the terminal, which it does.

We are a small team. We get busy. We get bogged down. Maintenance tracking and reminders help us preserve our collection.

Interested in learning more about SAN's Arts Program? The team at SAN wants you to reach out!

Chris Chalupsky: Sr. Manager, Arts Program

Lauren Lockhart: Manager, Arts Program

Arts Program website:

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