The Smithsonian American Art Museum is currently (through January 3, 2010) showing a wonderful exhibit of examples from the Public Works of Art Program. Here’s information excerpted from the web site:
In 1934, Americans grappled with an economic situation that feels all too familiar today. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration created the Public Works of Art Program—the first federal government program to support the arts nationally. Federal officials in the 1930s understood how essential art was to sustaining America’s spirit. Artists from across the United States who participated in the program, which lasted only six months from mid-December 1933 to June 1934, were encouraged to depict “the American Scene.” The Public Works of Art Program not only paid artists to embellish public buildings, but also provided them with a sense of pride in serving their country. 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.
1934: A New Deal for Artists celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Public Works of Art Program by drawing on the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s unparalleled collection of vibrant paintings created for the program. The 56 paintings in the exhibition are a lasting visual record of America at a specific moment in time. George Gurney, deputy chief curator, organized the exhibition with Ann Prentice Wagner, curatorial associate.
A catalogue, fully illustrated in color and co-published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and D Giles Ltd. in London, is forthcoming in July 2009. It will feature an essay by Roger Kennedy, historian and director emeritus of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History; individual entries for each artwork by Ann Prentice Wagner; and an introduction by the museum’s director Elizabeth Broun. The book will be available online and in the museum store for $49.95 (softcover $35).
The museum is sharing nearly 400 artworks and related objects dated 1934 from its collection with the public by creating an image group on Flickr. Join the group and add your images from 1934!
On NPR’s Morning Edition yesterday, reporter Elizabeth Blair did a story called ‘1934’: Reflecting On America’s First Big Art Buy. You can listen to the story on the web site, and see examples from the exhibit.