Written by Harold Lehman in 1985 for a symposium on
art of the WPA era held at the Mitchel Wolfson Collection Exhibit
in the Miami-Dade Museum.
The New Deal Art Projects were a phenomenon in our time. Although
they are now history, every impartial observer recognizes their supreme
importance in the development of American art.
For myself, I can say they provided the opportunity to fulfill three
main goals - to develop certain skills, to paint large-scale murals,
and to reach an audience.
That word "audience" is the clue. It was nationwide. For
the first time the arts reached into all the population centers. People
who formerly had little or no contact with serious art - "high
art", if you will, were now made aware of it. It was an exhilarating
experience for both artist and audience. We see the results even today
in the enormous activity taking place in the arts all over the country...activity
which would be inconceivable without the support given by Government
in the 1930's and '40's through the Federal Art Projects.
In retrospect, the difficulties of the time - the occasional harassments
from hostile critics, from Congressmen who were always trying to abolish
the projects, the lay-offs, etc., fade away and the essential values
come to the fore. Namely, artists, formerly ignored by Government,
achieved a place in society they never could have done otherwise due
to active Government support for the arts - all of the arts.