Art for Everyone: The Federal Art Project in Connecticut

From the early 1930s to the outbreak of World War II, the federal government invested substantial funds in back-to-work programs, including work projects in the arts. In Connecticut, 173 Connecticut artists created more than 5,000 pieces of art. About 1,700 of these paintings, murals, and sculptures were allocated to public institutions throughout the state.

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This WPA program marked the first time that the federal government had ever made a concerted effort to invest directly in American artistic culture, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration set up Federal Theater, Music, Dance and Writers projects as well as an Art Project. Their intention was to put creative people to work, and in case of the Art Project, this meant employing painters, sculptors, photographers (to document the art work), and carpenters (to build frames). Some of the artists would enjoy great success and others would disappear—along with much of the artwork.

Who were these artists and where did their artwork go? Were these items still tucked away or on display in libraries, hospitals, and state buildings? Were they in private collections? A joint project between the Connecticut State Library and the Mattatuck Museum, funded by the Connecticut Humanities Council, got underway in October 2009. Their goals include locating and documenting as much artwork as possible, adding the information to the database at the Connecticut State Library (http://wpa.cslib.org ), mounting an exhibition and publishing a catalogue. This important part of the state’s cultural history is especially resonant today. Please contact the museum ( croznoy@mattatuckmuseum.org ) if you know of any Connecticut WPA art or artist.

Saturday Night, New London by Beatrice Cuming

The exhibition was made possible through the generous support of our funders