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Thu, 08.29.1935

The Federal Arts Project Begins

*On this date in 1935, The Federal Art Project (FAP) began.  This was the visual arts arm of the American Great Depression-era Works Progress Administration (WPA), a Federal One program.

Funded under the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act 1935, it operated from 1935 until 1943. It was created as a relief measure to employ artists and artisans to create murals, easel paintings, sculpture, graphic art, posters, photography, Index of American Design documentation, museum and theatre scenic design, and arts and crafts. The Federal Art Project operated community art centers throughout the country where craft workers and artists worked, exhibited, and educated others.  

The Federal Art Project's primary goals were to employ out-of-work artists and to provide art for non-federal municipal buildings and public spaces. Artists were paid $23.60 weekly; tax-supported institutions such as schools, hospitals, and public buildings paid only for materials.  The work was divided into art production, instruction, and research. The primary output of the art-research group was the Index of American Design, a mammoth and comprehensive study of American material culture.  

As many as 10,000 artists were commissioned to produce work for the WPA Federal Art Project, the largest of the New Deal art projects. Three comparable but distinctly separate New Deal art projects were administered by the United States Department of the Treasury: The Public Works of Art Project (1933–34), the Section of Painting and Sculpture (1934–43), and the Treasury Relief Art Project (1935–38).  The WPA program made no distinction between representational and nonrepresentational art. Abstraction had not yet gained favor in the 1930s and 1940s and, thus, was virtually unsaleable.

As a result, the Federal Art Project supported such iconic artists as Jackson Pollock before their work could earn them income. The WPA Federal Art Project established more than 100 community art centers nationwide.  The project created more than 200,000 separate works, some of which remain among the country's most significant pieces of public art.  It researched and documented American design, commissioned a significant body of public art without restriction to content or subject matter, and sustained some 10,000 artists and craft workers during the Great Depression.   

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