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April 21st, 2021

By Li Jin and Lila Shroff

Illustration by Annie Zhao for Li’s Newsletter
Illustration by Annie Zhao for Li’s Newsletter

In the 1930s, the New Deal was a series of programs and projects instituted to aid the unemployed, support economic recovery, and reform the financial system in the midst of the Great Depression. Among the programs was Federal Project Number One, which devoted $27 million—roughly $522 million today—to provide employment for tens of thousands of artists across music, design, visual art, theater, writing, and more. As the largest instance of government patronage of the arts, the program also sought to make art accessible to the wider community and to create a new American style of art.

These programs employed some of the 20th century’s most celebrated artists, including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Lee Krasner, and Mark Rothko, and yielded over 100,000 works, including murals, sculptures, and paintings. The Federal Art Project aimed to be inclusive of artists of varying experience levels and allowed wide latitude in subject matters and styles, with program director Holger Cahill declaring, “Anything painted by an American artist is American art.”

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