New Deal Art: Eager and Alive

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal sponsored several art programs to help get people back to work and restore confidence in a nation facing 25 percent unemployment in 1933.

From 1934 to 1943, the New Deal murals and sculpture seen in Post Offices were produced under the Treasury Department’s Section of Painting and Sculpture, later called the Section of Fine Arts. Unlike the Works Progress Administration/Federal Art Project, with which it often is confused, this program was not directed toward providing economic relief. Instead, the art placed in Post Offices was intended to help boost the morale of people suffering the effects of the Great Depression with art that, in the words of President Roosevelt, was:

 

native, human, eager and alive — all of it painted by their own kind in their own country, and painted about things they know and look at often and have touched and loved.40

Artists competed anonymously in national and regional contests. After receiving a commission, an artist was encouraged to consult with the postmaster and other townspeople to ensure that the subject would be meaningful. In 2006, more than 1,150 Post Offices across the continental United States continued to house this uniquely American art for people to enjoy as they go about their daily lives.