May 18, 2011

Art Exhibit underscores value of public funding for the arts

The Oklahoma City Museum of Art will host 1934: A New Deal for Artists, an exhibit celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Public Works of Art Project. The project was created under the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration.

During its brief existence, from December 1933 to June 1934, 3,749 artists created 15,663 paintings, murals, sculptures, prints, drawings, and craft objects at a cost of $1,312,000.

The exhibit, which runs from May 26-August 21, underscores the value of public funding for the arts:

The Farm, 1934 by Kenjiro Nomura

Federal officials in the 1930s understood how essential art was to sustaining America’s spirit. During the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration created the Public Works of Art Project, which lasted only six months from mid-December 1933 to June 1934. The purpose of the program was to alleviate the distress of professional, unemployed American artists by paying them to produce artwork that could be used to embellish public buildings. The program was administered under the Treasury Department by art professionals in 16 different regions of the country.

Artists from across the United States who participated in the program were encouraged to depict “the American Scene,” but they were allowed to interpret this idea freely. They painted regional, recognizable subjects—ranging from portraits to cityscapes and images of city life to landscapes and depictions of rural life—that reminded the public of quintessential American values such as hard work, community, and optimism. These artworks, which were displayed in schools, libraries, post offices, museums, and government buildings, vividly capture the realities and ideals of Depression-era America.

The exhibition is arranged into eight sections: “American People,” “City Life,” “Labor,” “Industry,” “Leisure,” “The City,” “The Country,” and “Nature.” Works from 13 of the 16 regions established by the Advisory Committee to the Treasury on Fine Arts are represented in the exhibition.