Published: November 13, 2012
A new exhibition, “1934: A New Deal for Artists,” at the New York State Museum showcases paintings created against the backdrop of the Great Depression with the support of the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP), the first federal government program to support the arts nationally.
Open until January 20 in West Gallery, the exhibition is organized and circulated by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
During the Great Depression, US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt promised a “new deal for the American people,” initiating government programs to foster economic recovery. Roosevelt’s pledge to help “the forgotten man” also embraced America’s artists. The Public Works of Art Project lasted only six months, from mid-December 1933 to June 1934. Its purpose was to alleviate the distress of professional unemployed American artists by paying them to capture “the American Scene” in works of art that would embellish public buildings across the country.
Artists 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.
The exhibition began a national tour in 2010 celebrating the 75th anniversary of the PWAP by drawing on the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection of vibrant paintings created for the program. The 55 paintings in the exhibition are a lasting visual record of America at a specific moment in time.
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. 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 New York State Museum is at 222 Madison Avenue. For information, 518-474-5877 or www.nysm.nysed.gov .
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