In shaky economic times, government arts funding may be quick to land on the chopping block. In a timely article on Depression-era arts funding, DIY magazine ReadyMade questions the wisdom of this political logic.
Apparently, even in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt (or Eleanor, depending on your sources) viewed artists as an important investment on the road to economic recovery. For nearly a decade, the Federal Arts Project employed out-of-work artists in a slew of public arts projects. Other initiatives, bundled under the larger Federal Project Number One, did the same for musicians, actors, and writers.
FAP-sponsored artists often lent their creativity to the Works Progress Administration’s Poster Division, crafting promotional posters for New Deal programs. The results were often beautiful, vibrant with a sense of optimism both political and artistic. ReadyMade, wondering how such spirit might translate today, asked five artists to create FAP-inspired posters to comment on our current sets of political and economic challenges. The responses range from Christoph Neimann’s abstract celebration of art to Christopher Silas Neal’s exhortation to buy local. All are available for free download, and are accompanied by quick statements from the artists. Some seem to have found the FAP artists' buoyancy contagious. Nick Dewar envisions a cyclist utopia where “reflective bike clips would replace fancy ladies’ purses as the current must-have fashion accessory.”
The posters, while lovely, pose questions more than they provide answers. How, for instance, might artists help rejuvenate the country’s political spirit? As ReadyMade acknowledges, artists will need to do more than look to the past. They’ll also need a “brand-new graphic language,” one “equal in impact to the original initiative, but decidedly different.”