Enduring Character: WPA Prints from the Permanent Collection

The Enduring Character

WPA Prints from the Permanent Collection

The prints in this exhibition were produced under the auspices of the Works Progress Administration’s Federal Art Progress.

The Works Progress Administration

The Works Progress Administration, or WPA, was a government program started by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression.  It began in 1935 as a New Deal program and continued until 1943. The purpose of the WPA was to kickstart the American economy by having the government create jobs in service to the public.

Millions of unskilled workers were employed to build public works projects like bridges, roads, post offices, schools, parks, and more in communities across the nation, and the unemployed became breadwinners for their families in a time when money and food were scarce.

In 1939, the Works Progress Administration was renamed the Works Projects Administration.


The Federal Art Project

The branch of the WPA responsible for these prints was the Federal Art Project, or FAP, which was a division of Federal Project Number One. In the years it was active, the Federal Art Project employed over ten thousand artists, providing relief to artists in need of income and bringing art to a wider public audience as a result.

Many art teachers were also employed in community centers to teach classes to both children and adults, and more than one hundred community art centers were established because of this program.

Artists employed by the FAP were paid $23.60 a week (roughly equal to $428 today) to create murals, easel paintings, sculptures, fine art prints, posters, photography, theatre scenic design, and arts and crafts, and these pieces were then distributed to public institutions across the country.

These works of art are allocated rather than given to the institutions and remain federal property.