Showing posts with label How It Began. Show all posts
Showing posts with label How It Began. Show all posts


How It Began

In 1932, New York, claiming international interest as an art center, was forced to discard the comforting notion that its artists were a race apart. Little similarity could be found to the traditional picture of the artist in his garret Ivory Tower, creating art for art's sake.

Even as he tried to satisfy hunger with the soul-stimulating manna of dry bread, it became increasingly urgent to make some provision for his employment. While public interest in Art continued after 1929, the art market had almost completely disappeared.

During the flourishing years, the country in general and New Yorkers in particular had been introduced to the best in contemporary European art. Although American art resources barely had been tapped, there was a nascent awareness that art had a place in everyday life.

This was further developed by the growing number of exhibitions and art publications, by the creative art and the appreciation courses in schools and colleges, and by re-vitalized museum presentations.

The public's readiness to cooperate with a program giving work relief to artists was apparent when the Gibson Committee was established in December 1932.

Small groups of artists, among the thousands stranded by the depression, were given month-to-month assignments to design and execute murals for non—profitmaking institutions.

Public interest was further reflected when at the cad of 1933 the Civil Works Administration took over and enlarged the program already started.

Its scope was again enlarged when local sponsorship was succeeded in April, 1934, by the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration. Reverting to the city in August 1935, work relief for artists was established in the Federal Art Project of the New York City Works Progress Administration.

Its present structure was defined when the Federal Art Project became part of Federal Project No. 1 in November 1935, with Holger Cahill as National Director and Audrey McMahon as Regional Director and Assistant to the National Director. In July 1937, Paul Edwards became administrative officer in charge of the Federal Arts Projects in New York City.

The Purpose of The Project

To conserve the talents and skills of artists who, through no fault of their own, found themselves on the relief rolls and without means to continue their work, to encourage young artists of definite ability, to integrate the fine with the practical arts and, more especially, the arts in general with the daily life of the community—these, in brief, are the primary objectives of the WPA federal Art Project.

More than 350 separate projects have been put into operation to carry oat these objectives in the Project's regional divisions throughout the United States.

The chief concern of the "Federal Art Project has been to give employment to needy artists, but it has been able also to create works of art for the public which have a definite social value to the community.

In New York City, the Project's creative divisions produce murals and photo-murals,easel paintings, sculpture, graphic prints, stained glass and photographs for tax-supported public buildings, Libraries, schools, armories, hospitals, municipal and state institutions, courthouses, prisons and other public buildings throughout New York have been recipients of these RFA Federal Art Project works.

Allocations are made on the basis of an indefinite loan, for which the recipient reimburses the Project for other than labor costs.

The divisions of the WPA Federal Art Project serving the Project itself or the public directly are art teaching, the Index of American Design, photography, exhibitions, posters, visual education, scenic designing, Four Arts Design Unit and the Restoration, Installation and Technical Service division.

The largest of these divisions, art teaching, is perhaps most far reaching in its immediate effectiveness. Its ever widening scope, making possible the development of a greater sensitiveness to art among the coming generation, encompasses young people all over the country who will form a genuine audience for American art in the future.

It is of paramount importance to the community that children shall have ample opportunity to indulge and express their creative fancies.

Rather than attempting to make professional artists of the many thousands of young people who daily attend WPA Federal Project classes, art teachers are opening up an enchanting world, too long denied the underprivileged children of the country.

Guidance along new, unexplored paths is given to these 6- to 16-year-olds, who had been culturally, as well as economically, trapped by the circumstances of their lives.

In helping to salvage the present, the WPA Federal Art Project offers a measure of assurance that once-maladjusted and delinquent children and those whom art has aided to change fron incipient enemies of society will become useful citizens, contributing to the general welfare of the country.


The WPA Federal Art Project, providing employment and some measure of economic security to needy artists in all parts of the country, has been as well an instrument for their aesthetic rehabilitation. Skills have been conserved, new talents have been discovered and given the opportunity to develop, while an art tradition has been salvaged from the past for the future.

The restrictions which made art the special possession of the few, whose patronage fostered it as a luxury enjoyment, have been broken down and removed. Tie public has learned to accept the artist as a useful, producing member of the social family.

The public's new awareness of art, its place in everyday life, is reflected in the work produced by the painters, sculptors, muralists, and graphic artists of the WPA Federal Art Project who have brought into salience the multifarious aspects of the American scene.

A richer significance has been given to the lives of those who have come closer to art through the works produced and presented by the WPA Federal Art Project and to those who have experienced the stimulation of creating it themselves.

In fulfilling a two-fold purpose, the WPA Federal Art Project has established a firm foundation for the future of art in this country while it has preserved for safe keeping, beyond the assault of time and disuse, our heritage from the past.

For the first time in history, government patronage in art has been initiated without the binding red tape which makes some "official art" a useless, ineffective expression.

Government patronage of the WPA Federal Art Project enables the artists of the country to continue the practice of their art and the development of their skill.

Front Cover, The WPA Federal Art Project: A Summary of Activities and Accomplishments, New York City: Works Progress Administration, 1939.