The greatest achievement of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project (WPA/FAP) was to instill in millions of Americans the idea that art is for everyone. Through the government’s funding of art education, exhibitions, and the creation of new works, the value of art became determined not by rarity or price, but by its ability to give pleasure to individuals and bring communities together.
As a result of the WPA/FAP programs, incredible advancements were achieved in art education, public interest in the arts, and the refining of America’s cultural identity. And none of it may have happened if it were not for the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing economic downturn known as the Great Depression. The resulting job losses and difficulty of survival led the American government to fund a work-relief program that supported all types of labor, including artists, thus taking the first significant step in government funding for the arts, particularly art education for children.
In drawing attention to this era and creating educational programs inspired by the ones developed during the WPA/FAP, the Children’s Museum of the Arts has aimed to highlight this truly unique time in American history—in world history—in which the federal government was able to address the public’s need for sustenance, both material and cultural, because there was an understanding of the value of the arts to community, as well as a public consensus that the arts deserved government support.
What began with the WPA/FAP is still unfolding today. Clearly, our culture has changed from what it was in the 1930s—indeed the paintings in this catalog reflect that—but the need for individuals to connect and art’s ability to aid that connection is absolutely as mighty now as it was then.