After the 1929 stock market crash, an estimated 15 million Americans lost their jobs, over 10,000 of them artists. The US government founded a work-relief program, the Works Progrss Administration (WPA), which provided jobs for the unemployed in infrastructure, education, and the arts, serving as a lifesaver for almost 8.5 million Americans. Fast forward to the present, and the resemblance is striking—Americans continue to struggle through the greatest public health crisis in living memory and the painful aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic: unemployment, food insecurity, social isolation, and challenges with physical and mental health, to name a few.
The works of art commissioned by the Federal relief programs became the property of the US government and were later transferred to the General Services Administration for management. The Administration is responsible for the use and care of these works, and some, like selected prints in this exhibition, remain on loan to the museums they entered in the 1930s for use in exhibitions. The works in this exhibition, created under the WPA program, reflect the steadfast core values of our democracy that prevail today: perseverance, community, hard work, and resilience. Whether in the 1930s or the 2020s, our government partners with private citizens in times of crisis, creating safe harbor for those suffering the impact of financial, medical, and natural disasters, lending a helping hand to neighbor and stranger alike in order to preserve America and her people.
Above: Rockwell Kent (American, 1882–1971) and J. J. Lankes (American, 1884–1960), Dynamos (detail), 1930, woodcut on paper, Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Gift of J. B. Lankes, 2005.12.2
Right: Sol Horn, Photograph of Stuart Davis painting WNYC studio mural, 1939, photographic print, Federal Art Project, Photographic Division collection, circa 1920–1965, 2053, Photograph courtesy of the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, (c) 17 U.S.C. §§ 101 and 105
The works in this exhibition, created under the WPA program, reflect the steadfast core values of our democracy that prevail today: perseverance, community, hard work, and resilience.
Organized by the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, Montgomery, Alabama.
Support for this exhibition was provided in part by a grant from the Alabama State Council on the Arts.