The New Deal arts projects provided work for jobless artists, but they also had a larger mission: to promote American art and culture and to give more Americans access to what President Franklin Roosevelt described as "an abundant life." The projects saved thousands of artists from poverty and despair and enabled Americans all across the country to see an original painting for the first time, attend their first professional live theater, or take their first music or drawing class.
But the arts projects also sparked controversy. Some politicians believed them to be wasteful propaganda and wanted them ended; others wanted them expanded. Such controversy, along with the United States' entry into World War II, eventually killed the projects. But much of what they fashioned has survived through the efforts of museums, libraries, and archives, including the National Archives and Records Administration. This exhibition describes and displays the work of the New Deal arts projects and discusses themes common to this government-sponsored art. The paintings, prints, books, playbills, posters, and music transcriptions displayed here are more than artifacts and documents of an emergency work program. They are examples of an extraordinary burst of American creativity that occurred during a time of tremendous change and trial.