CMA will be closed to the public (except for all School of Art Students) March 31st through April 22nd, 2024, as we prepare our Spring/Summer Exhibitions
 
 
 

Canton POS

Home / Exhibits / A New Deal: Artists of the WPA from the CMA Collection (November 21, 2023- March 24, 2024)

A New Deal: Artists of the WPA from the CMA Collection (November 21, 2023- March 24, 2024)

Pictured above:

Catfish Row, nd. George Biddle (1885-1973). Lithograph on paper. 

 

 

Against the backdrop of severe economic strife caused by the Stock Market Crash of 1929, President Franklin Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which put roughly 8.5 million Americans, including more than 173,000 men and women in Ohio, to work building schools, hospitals, roads and more. Within the WPA was The Federal Art Project (FAP) which provided employment for artists to create art for municipal buildings and public spaces. The FAP had a non-discrimination clause that meant it attracted and hired artists of color and women, who previously received little attention in the art world. The only guidance the government offered about subject matter was to depict the "American scene" and stipulated no nudity or political issues. The goal was for artists to help the United States develop its own distinct American style of art, especially as artists in other parts of the world were forbidden freedom of expression and ordered to create artworks that projected the beliefs of their governments. 

 

Though the WPA artists in the United States shared the common goal of capturing life in all its variety and promoting national pride, they each had different approaches, and many modified their typical subject matter to fit whatever project they were assigned. The arts before and after the New Deal relied on private patronage and the philanthropy of wealthy and elite institutions: galleries, museums, dealers. But during the WPA, art wasn't a luxury good, it was seen as an essential part of our democracy. Artists were seen as professional workers who were making important and significant contributions to American life. The artworks made under the WPA became the collection of the American people and were put in public collections - hospitals, schools, post offices, housing projects, etc. - ensuring they were part of communities. The arts were seen as an important part of a democratic sozciety and the American way of life, with a richness of experience and accessibility to culture.

 

While artists were offered opportunities through the WPA, they were far from immune to the distress caused by the Depression, and many still struggled to make a living. Will Barnet detailed a bleak scene he came across, saying: 

 

“It was like a war going on. There were bread lines and men lined around three, four, five, six blocks waiting to get a bowl of soup. It was an extraordinary situation. And one felt this terrible dark cloud over the whole city.” 

 

Moses Soyer also described the hardships artists experienced, saying,

 

“Depression–who can describe the hopelessness that its victims knew? Perhaps no one better than the artist taking his work to show the galleries. They were at a standstill. The misery of the artist was acute.” 
 

The FAP supported the creation of thousands of works of art, including more than 2,500 murals that can still be seen in public buildings around the country. The FAP also supported art education and outreach efforts, including traveling exhibitions and art education programs for children. The WPA and FAP had a significant impact on the American art scene, and many of the artists who participated in the program went on to become important figures in the art world.

 

A New Deal: Artists of the WPA from the CMA Collection highlights the lives of artists from our Permanent Collection who worked for the WPA, and in doing so, fostered resilience for a struggling nation. You will learn about the projects they worked on, the subjects they were interested in, and how their own lives were affected by the Depression. Each of these artists helped to foster the nation’s spirit and prove that even in the darkest of times, art serves as a uniting force to collectively lead people into a brighter future.

 

To view the artwork in A New Deal, click here. 

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

To view the entire CMA collection, click here. 

 

Donate Today