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A Momentous Seventy-Fifth Art Anniversary
December 12, 2008

Ray Strong's Golden Gate Bridge

Ray Strong's Golden Gate Bridge

George Gurney, American Art's Deputy Chief Curator, came by my desk this afternoon to tell me today marked a special occasion in the art world.

On December 12, 1933, seventy-five years ago today, the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was founded. This was the first of four New Deal art projects. Artists were paid a minimum wage for completed art works that then became property of the government. The project was intended as a way to provide relief to artists and to bring art into public buildings. The PWAP lasted only seven months. Yet within that short period it employed 3,749 artists who were paid a total of $1,184,748.32 for 15,663 works of art. In April 1934, 511 items were exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington. President Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor chose a number of these works to show in the White House. The success of the PWAP provided the impetus for the rest of the New Deal art programs.

On February 27, 2009, the Smithsonian American Art Museum will open 1934: A New Deal for Artists, which will feature PWAP paintings from our collection, including many shown in the White House and other federal buildings.

Posted by Jeff on December 12, 2008 in American Art Elsewhere, American Art Here


It's a pity that such a signal project lasted only seven months. While there are so many grants and programmed to encourage artists in theatre, music and dance, art is often a particularly lonely profession.

Though one does look forward to the Feb. '09 show, one can only hope that such projects don't remain only as a part of history.

Given the state of the world economy, might it not be time for a 'New Deal' all over again?

Posted by: Anjali Purohit | Dec 15, 2008

Here's an image of my favorite work from that time period, a painting by John Rogers Cox that is owned by the Cleveland Museum.

Posted by: gizmo | Dec 16, 2008

Wouldn't it be wonderful if Barack Obama's economic stimulus plan included something similar for today's emerging artists?

Posted by: Ed | Dec 22, 2008

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