On view June 2 to Sept. 30, 2012.
In 1934, Americans were dealing with an economic situation that feels all too familiar today. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, the U.S. government created the Public Works of Art Project—the first federal government program to support the arts nationally. A selection of paintings made with support from this program will be on view in the exhibit, organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum. It features 56 paintings drawn from the museum’s unparalleled collection of vibrant paintings created for the program.
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, including Minnesota.
Artists were asked to depict "the American Scene," but they were encouraged 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.
"1934: A New Deal for Artists" is organized and circulated by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with support from the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund and the Smithsonian Council for American Art. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum’s traveling exhibition program, “Treasures to Go.” The Minnesota showing of the exhibit is made possible through a generous gift from Betty and Whitney MacMillan.