History of the New Deal Art Projects

In 1933 and 1934, during the period of "The Great Depression," the Federal government's Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was organized by the Civil Works Administration. The general purpose of the program was "to give work to artists by arranging to have competent representatives of the profession embellish public buildings." This program lasted less than one year, yet it provided employment for approximately 3,700 artists who created nearly 15,000 works of art. In 1935, a similar project, the Federal Art Project (FAP) was established by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). The Federal Art Project continued until 1943, when the beginning of World War II had changed economic priority to the war effort and the Nation was experiencing economic recovery. Thus ended the first major era of government patronage for art in the United States. - provided by John R. Graham, Curator of Exhibits, Western Illinois University Art Gallery, 1 University Circle, Macomb, Illinois 61455

Timeline of New Deal Programs - pdf file (11.5 kb)

Public Works of Art Project (PWAP)
- established under the Treasury Department
with funds transferred from the CWA -
December 1933 - June 1934
National Director: Edward Bruce
Goal: To furnish work for unemployed artists in the decoration of public buildings and parks. Artists were selected on the basis of their need for employment plus their professional ability.

The Section (Treasury Department)
October 13, 1934 - June 30, 1943
This program changed names several times during its existence.
The Treasury Dept. Section of Painting and Sculpture (October 1934 - October 1938)
The Treasury Department Section of Fine Arts (1938-1939)
The Section of Fine Arts (transferred to the new Federal Works Agency) (1939-1943)
National Director: Edward Bruce
Goal: To decorate new federal buildings with work of the highest quality. This was not a relief program. Artists were selected to work for the Section through regional and national competitions.
Article about the Treasury Department's Section of Fine Art

Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP)
- funds from the Works Progress Administration/Emergency Relief granted to the Treasury Department-
July 1935 - June 1939
National Director: Olin Dows/Cecil Jones
Goal: To commission art from unemployed artists to decorate existing federal buildings and new federal buildings without money in their construction budget for art. This was a relief program and 90% (later 75%) of the artists on TRAP had to come from the relief rolls.

Works Progress Administration/Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP)
- funding from the WPA -
Works Progress Administration's Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) (August 1935 - September 1939)
Art Program of the Work Projects Administration of the Federal Works Agency (WPA Art Program) (September 1939 - March 1942)
Graphic Section of the War Services Division (March - October 1942)
Graphic Section of the War Services Division (October 1942 - April 1943)
National Director: Holger Cahill
Goal: To provide jobs for unemployed artists. Work done by the WPA artists was available for allocation to tax-supported and partially tax-supported institutions. Each state had its own director and administrative staff. This was a relief program and 90% (later 75%) of the artists had to come from the relief rolls.

Civil Works Administration (CWA)
established November 8, 1933

Public Works Administration (PWA)
established June 16, 1933

Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC)
established March 31, 1933

Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA)
established May 12, 1933

Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA)

Emergency Relief Adminstration (ERA)
on July 3, 1934, the ERA absorbed the CWA and administration of the PWAP was transferred to the state ERAs. It expired on July 18, 1935


October 1929 - Stock market crashes, beginning the Great Depression.

January 30, 1933 - Adolf Hitler takes office as Chancellor of Germany.

November 1932 - Franklin D. Roosevelt is elected 32nd President of the United States.

March 20, 1933 - FDR is inaugurated and takes office as President. He immediately suspends most operations of the nation's banks in a four-day "bank holiday" to stop the financial panic gripping the country.

April 15, 1933 - Company 1743 of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), an African-American unit, was organized at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis. They built their outstanding reputation for craftsmanship at Washington State Park.

May 9, 1933 - George Biddle, artist friend of FDR, writes to the President, urging him to create a Federal program to support the American Artist.

May 12, 1933 - the Federal Emergency Relief Act of 1933 is approved, creating the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. Harry L. Hopkins is appointed administrator.

June 1933 - the Procurement Division is created within the Treasury Department.

November 9, 1933 - FDR creates the Civil Works Administration, under which the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) was placed.

December 8, 1933 - Public Works of Art Project is initiated. Edward Bruce is named Administrator.

February 1934 - the Artists' Union is formed to protect the rights of the American artist.

April 24-May 20, 1934 - "National Exhibition of Art by the Public Works of Art Project" opens at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

May 20, 1934 - the PWAP is terminated; incompleted projects continue under various funding until July 1935.

June 4, 1934 - Company 1743 (CCC) was transferred to Washington State Park. Their outstanding craftsmanship (14 buildings and extensive stone work) earned their work recognition on the National Register of Historic Places.

October 16, 1934 - Section of Painting and Sculpture under the Treasury Department is created by order of Henry Morgenthau. It is used to fund creation of art to decorate Federal buildings, especially post offices. Edward Bruce is named Chief of Section.

1935 - The U.S. Resettlement Administration is established to carry out land reform and population resettlement; three Greenbelt towns are created: Greenbelt, MD, Greenhills, OH, and Greendale, WI.

January 26, 1935 - The all-black Company 1743 of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) published its first newspaper in Washington State Park. It was named the "CCC Call."

May 6, 1935 - Executive Order 7034 creates the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

May 1935 - FDR issues an Executive Order banning exclusion of African Americans from WPA projects.

July 25, 1935 - Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP) is established with WPA funds.

August 2, 1935 - Federal Project Number One (under which the Federal Art Project is placed) is announced. Holger Cahill is named national director of the Federal Art Project (FAP).

August 29, 1935 - the first Federal funding is allocated to Federal One.

October 1935 - Mrs. Increase Robinson is promoted to Illinois Assistant State Director to the Federal Art Project. She opens the Federal Art Project Studio at 433 East Erie Street, Chicago, IL.

November 26, 1935 - Administrative Order #35 is issued by Harry Hopkins; the order exempts up to 25% of Federal One employees from meeting relief requirements; the rest of the WPA is limited to 10% non-relief employees.

December 27, 1935 - the Federal Art Project Gallery opens in New York City.

June 30, 1936 - Employment on Federal One Project peaks at 44,797.

July 1936 - Jacob Baker, assistant head of the WPA resigns; Ellen S. Woodward replaces him.

August 1936 - Colonel Brehon B. Somervell is named head of the WPA in New York City.

December 1, 1936 - Protesting changes in the FAP, artists riot in New York City with 219 arrested.

1937 - Peterpaul Ott, Evanston artist and head of the Illinois Sculpture Division, is fired by Mrs. Increase Robinson. The Chicago Artists' Union organizes a nationwide strike in response.

1937 - The Farm Security Administration is formed out of the old Resettlement Administration. It's primary goal is "to combat the social and economic dislocations caused by the distressing agricultural climate." One of the lasting benefits of the FSA was the body of photographs created in the FSA Historical Section of the Information Division.

June 1937 - Gregory Orloff, artist, is fired from the Chicago area Mills and Lake View High School mural projects by Mrs. Increase Robinson. Once again protests ensue.

November 1937 - the Harlem Community Art Center, New York City opens.

March 1938 - Mrs. Increase Robinson is fired as the Illinois Assistant State Director.

July 1, 1938 - TRAP is discontinued.

October 1938 - Section of Painting and Sculpture is renamed Section of Fine Arts.

December 1938 - Harry Hopkins resigns as head of the WPA to become the Secretary of Commerce. Ellen S. Woodward resigns as the head of the Women's and Professionals' Projects.

December 24, 1938 - Francis C. Harrington is named head of the WPA.

January 3, 1939 - Florence Kerr is named head of the Women's and Professionals' Projects.

April 4 - October 15, 1939 - "Frontiers of American Art" opens at the M.H. de Young Museum in San Francisco, CA.

July 1, 1939 - FDR's Reorganization Plan takes effect transferring the Works Progress Administration to the newly created Federal Works Agency and renaming it the Work Projects Administration. Section is transferred from the Treasury Department to the Federal Works Agency.

July 31, 1939 - General Letter #278 demands that all WPA Federal One projects have non-WPA sponsorship and change their name to the WPA Arts Projects.

September 1939 - WWII begins in Europe. The New York World's Fair opens, showcasing WPA/FAP and Section work.

February 10, 1940 - Operating Procedure #G-5 puts the WPA/FAP under the Division of Community Service.

September 30, 1940 - Francis C. Harrington dies; he is replaced as head of the WPA by Howard O. Hunter.

November 25-December 1, 1940 - "National Art Week" is sponsored by the Section and WPA/FAP.

December 7, 1941 - the attack on Pearl Harbor brings the USA into WWII.

April 18, 1942 - Service Letter #3 discontinues nearly all WPA/FAP activities.

January 27, 1943 - Edward Bruce dies.

June 30, 1943 - all arts projects of the WPA officially come to an end with the termination of the WPA.

July 1943 - Section ceases to operate.

April 12, 1945 - Franklin D. Roosevelt dies.

May 7, 1945 - Berlin falls to the Allies. Germany surrenders.

August 6 & 9, 1945 - U.S. drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

September 2, 1945 - Japan formally surrenders, ending WWII.

January 29, 1946 - Harry L. Hopkins, former WPA administrator, dies.

July 8, 1960 - Holger Cahill, former head of the FAP, dies.

1963 - Archives of American Art begins a major collection project of material related to the New Deal art projects.

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