What The Depression-Era Works Progress Administration Can Teach Us About The Arts During A CrisisHistorians in the News
tags: Great Depression, art history, murals, WPA, Public works
In the 1930s, former President Franklin D. Roosevelt enacted job creation programs that put thousands of artists to work.
The best-known program was the Works Progress Administration, which led to the development of community arts centers in minority communities across the country. The WPA was inspired in part by post-revolutionary thinking in Mexico, says Ohio State University art history professor Jody Patterson.
Before FDR came into office, a cultural movement was gaining visibility in Mexico. After the military stages of the Mexican Revolution, the country’s government hired artists as wage laborers to visualize history and make it accessible to the hundreds of thousands of citizens who were illiterate, she says.
“This kind of collective expression was very much the model that was taken on by the Federal Art Project and transposed into the American context,” says Patterson, who authored the book “Modernism for the Masses: Painters, Politics and Public Murals in 1930s New York.”
Through WPA, several hundred thousand works were created by professional artists. Many Americans experienced original artwork for the first time through WPA concerts or public art such as murals, some of which still stand today.