Depression-era Art and State Funding Cuts


In 2009, the world was in another great depression which p.r.-conscious governments and media pabulumed the Great Recession so you wouldn’t feel so bad. That same year, the Smithsonian American Art Museum blended 54 works from its archives to display in Washington, D.C.: “1934: A New Deal for Artists.” An aesthetic way to keep one’s plight in historic perspective.

Filling the Ice House, Harry Gottlieb, 1934.

This week, and right on time, the exhibit has made it across country to Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin, where cutting arts funding has been the order of conservative Gov. Scott Walker’s day.

Story continues below.’s Wisconsin State Journal writer Gayle Worland connects the dots among the Depression-era exhibit, slashing of Wisconsin arts funds, and the state of arts support nationwide in the article “Exhibit of Depression-era art is illustrative comparison as state cuts public funding for arts.”

Worland explains:

“1934,” which has since traveled across the country before landing in Madison, assembles some of the great paintings to come out of the Depression-era Public Works of Art Project – the first federal government program to support the arts. The PWAP lasted only seven months and put $1.3 million directly into the hands of 3,750 artists assigned to depict the “American Scene” of the day, both to inspire Americans and help boost the economy.

But in today’s tough economic times, government funding for the arts has often found itself first on the chopping block.

The money Wisconsin will spend this year on the arts – 15 cents per capita, compared with $5.77 in first-ranked Minnesota – reflects a 67 percent cut in funding to the Wisconsin Arts Board in 2011, when Gov. Scott Walker folded that statewide arts agency into the Department of Tourism. (Wisconsin’s Percent for Art program, in which 0.2 percent of a public building project was devoted to public art, also was dismantled that year.)

Worland’s article includes a national map showing funding by state, and a chart revealing funding sources, both provided by the National Endowment for the Arts. You can see Worland’s article, including NEA images, here.

The exhibit runs in Madison Feb. 16 to April 28.

Labor and Art in Cleveland

Meanwhile, the Cleveland Public Library is hosting “Labor & New Deal Art,” a show launched by local unions. It primarily focuses on life as an industrial worker during an era of heavy organizing. But the presentation also connects with the struggles of today’s labor unions and the economic uncertainties of our times, Olivera Perkins of The Plain Dealer reports.

“The subject matter responds in a really strong way to that contemporary time,” said Alexandra Nicholis Coon, executive director of the Massillon Museum, whose staff curated the exhibit.

The free “Labor & New Deal Art” exhibit runs through March 24.