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new deal art

New Deal Art

During the depths of the Great Depression of the 1930s and into the early years of World War II, the Federal government supported the arts in unprecedented ways. For 11 years, between 1933 and 1943, federal tax dollars employed artists, musicians, actors, writers, photographers, and dancers. Never before or since has our government so extensively sponsored the arts.


why did the government support the arts
Why did the government support the Arts?
  • Arts projects provided work for jobless artists.
  • A larger mission: to promote American art and culture and to give more Americans access to what President Franklin Roosevelt described as "an abundant life."
  • The projects saved thousands of artists from poverty enabled Americans to see an original painting for the first time, attend their first professional live theater, or take their first music or drawing class.
  • Controversy and WWII ended government support for the Arts.
what were common themes
What were common themes?
  • New Deal art displays important cultural and historical themes that give us a window into a period of great change and controversy in America.
  • Rediscovering America
  • Celebrating “the People”
  • Work Pays America
  • Activist Arts
  • Useful Arts
rediscovering america
Rediscovering America

History of Southern IllinoisBy Paul Kelpe, Illinois Federal Art Project, WPA, ca. 1935-39 Gouache

Fishermen's VillageBy Edmund Lewandowski, Wisconsin Federal Art Project, WPA, 1937 Watercolor and gouache over pencil

"Church in shacktown community. It is used by different sects, including Pentecostal. The curtains are made of flour sacks. . . . Near Modesto, Stanislaus County, California, May 10, 1940"By Dorothea Lange, Bureau of Agricultural Economics

jane addams memorial by mitchell siporin illinois federal art project wpa 1936 tempera on paper
Jane Addams MemorialBy Mitchell Siporin, Illinois Federal Art Project, WPA, 1936Tempera on paper
celebrating the people
Celebrating “the People”

Michigan artist Alfred Castagne sketching WPA construction workersBy an unknown photographer, May 19, 1939

waiting for the mail by grant wright christian treasury relief art project 1937 38 oil on canvas
Waiting for the MailBy Grant Wright Christian, Treasury Relief Art Project, 1937 38Oil on canvas
work pays america
Work Pays America

Painting depicting the activities of the National Youth AdministrationBy Alden Krider, Kansas National Youth Administration, 1936, Oil on canvas

years of dust by ben shahn resettlement administration 1937 photolithograph

"C.C.C. A Young Man's Opportunity for Work Play Study & Health"By Albert Bender, Chicago Federal Art Project, WPA, ca. 1935Silkscreen

Years of DustBy Ben Shahn, Resettlement Administration, 1937, Photolithograph
activist arts
Activist Arts

Lest We ForgetBy Ben Shahn, Resettlement Administration, 1937Gouache and watercolor in bound volume


"Children in a democracy. A migratory family living in a trailer in an open field. No sanitation, no water. They come from Amarillo, Texas."By Dorothea Lange, Bureau of Agricultural Economics, November 1940


From the "One-Third of a Nation" series, New York CityBy Arnold Eagle and David Robbins,New York City Federal Art Project, May to August 1938