For the Educator

One of the most innovative divisions of the New Deal’s WPA was the Federal Project One, a cultural arts program established to generate jobs, in a range of arts genres, for unemployed artists on relief roles. Hundreds of studio artists, muralists, writers, photographers, actors, dancers, musicians, design architects, sculptors and art teachers found jobs, thus fulfilling the Project’s primary mission. In addition, the reach and quality of the program achieved other meaningful goals. It encouraged re-investment in exploring American history and in rediscovering the beauty and diversity of the American landscape. It helped to dispel the perception that the “fine” arts are only for the elite and wealthy. It dispersed the creative works of some of America’s most talented artists throughout the nation, championing the cause that the arts belong to all. The project also promoted arts education for children and adults on a broad scale and inspired and nourished young talented “contenders” in various arts genres, many of whom would produce some of the most celebrated and enduring works in America’s arts canons.

To help students gain understanding and appreciation for the cultural enrichment the Federal Project One infused throughout many areas of American life, consider dividing the class into collaborative teams and assigning each team one of the subdivisions of the Project to be researched in preparation for a class discussion of the overall Federal Project One:

For the Student

  • The Federal Project One, founded under the auspices of the WPA during the 1930s Great Depression, was established to give unemployed artists on relief roles a job. Project One fulfilled that mission in a range of arts genres, in the process expanding and greatly enriching the cultural life of Americans in numerous ways.

    To acquaint you with the scope of cultural enrichment the Federal Project One generated in America, your class has been arranged into collaborative teams and each team assigned one of the following subdivisions of the Project. Each team has the responsibility to research and craft a class presentation on its assigned subdivision to be followed with a class discussion of the overall background and impact of Federal Project One throughout the nation.

    Federal Writers Project
    Federal Theatre Project
    Federal Dance Project
    Historical Records Survey
    Federal Music Project
    Federal Arts Project

    Include in your research and your design for presentation specific analyses of the following aspects of your topic:

    focus and general nature of your assigned subdivision Project

    the opportunities provided for an artist to work in his or her area of expertise and the dedicated mission to be fulfilled by your subdivision Project

    identification of artists involved in your subdivision Project who were at the time and/or later notable and celebrated in their arts field

    specific reasons for the tensions that developed within that subdivision of the Federal Project One

    an assessment of the overall accomplishment of your assigned subdivision Project in relation to and beyond defined goals

  • FDR recognized, right from the beginning, that he must work hard to explain the rationale for and “sell” all aspects of his New Deal program, especially elements of the WPA, to the American public. What were the primary “marketing” devices used to promote Federal Project One initiatives?

  • Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, the Federal Project One was short-lived. Develop a written account of specific reasons for the termination of the overall Project. Give your analysis range. For instance, consider social. political and historical implications.

  • Although the Federal Project One was short-lived, it had far-reaching positive results, many of which are still influences in contemporary American life. Develop a well-constructed essay in which you give a specific analysis of one or more of the sustained achievements generated by Federal Project One. Following is a list of suggested topics for you to consider in narrowing to a focus for your essay.

    creation of new orchestras
    wide expansion of visual arts programs and displays
    photography as history
    oral history
    democratization of art
    post-office murals
    modern dance and new choreographies
    arts education
    working conditions and relationship with the artists’ union

  • If you were in a situation that required you to take a stance on the revival of Federal Project One, would you vote to reinstate the Project? Why? Why not?

Next: Photography in the Farm Security Administration Project



Jayne Karsten
Original Writer

Editors & Producers

Kenny Neal
Manager, Digital Education Resources

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