1934: A New Deal for Artists
1934: A New Deal for Artists is organized and circulated by the Smithsonian American Art Museum with support from the William R. Kenan Jr. Endowment Fund and the Smithsonian Council for American Art. The C.F. Foundation in Atlanta supports the museum’s traveling exhibition program, Treasures to Go.

The exhibition will run February 27, 2009 through January 3, 2010



The United States of America was in crisis as 1934 approached. Art seemed irrelevant as the national economy fell into a profound depression after the stock market crash of October 1929. Thousands of banks failed, wiping out the life savings of millions of families. Farmers battled drought, erosion, and declining food prices. Businesses struggled or collapsed. A quarter of the work force was unemployed, while an equal number worked reduced hours. More and more people were homeless and hungry. Nearly 10,000 unemployed artists faced destitution.

The nation looked expectantly to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was inaugurated in March 1933. The new administration swiftly initiated a wide-ranging series of economic recovery programs called the New Deal. The President realized that Americans needed not only employment but also the inspiration art could provide. On December 8, 1933, the Advisory Committee to the Treasury on Fine Arts organized the Public Works of Art Project. Within days sixteen regional committees were recruiting artists who eagerly set to work in all parts of America. Between December 1933 and June 1934, the PWAP hired 3,749 artists who created 15,663 paintings, murals, sculptures, prints, drawings, and craft works. The PWAP suggested “the American Scene” as appropriate subject matter, but allowed artists to interpret this idea freely. PWAP images vividly capture the realities and ideals of Depression-era America. The PWAP art displayed in schools, libraries, post offices, museums, and government buildings lifted the spirits of Americans all over the country. The success of the PWAP paved the way for later New Deal art programs, including the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Project.

In April 1934, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., exhibited over 500 works created under the PWAP. President Franklin Roosevelt, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and government officials who attended the exhibition acclaimed the art enthusiastically. The Roosevelts selected thirty-two paintings for the White House, while senators, representatives, and cabinet secretaries chose works to adorn their offices. During the 1960s hundreds of these PWAP paintings were transferred to the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where they open windows into the America of 1934.


If you have any other artworks involving 1934 that you would like to submit, please visit our group @1934
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