Wpa And The African American Artist

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WPA and the African American Artist

The great depression OF 1929 brought to the ARTS a slow demise of artistic backings such as the HARMON FOUNDATION. Even though the FOUNDATION ended its support in 1967, the important Annual Awards Competition ended earlier in 1933. Visual artists such as SELMA BURKE, AUGUSTA SAVAGE, JOSEPH DELANEY, ROMARE BEARDEN, BEAUFORD DELANEY, LOIS MAILOU JONES, HORACE PIPPIN, ALAN ROHAN CRITE, JACOB LAWRENCE, ELDZIER CORTOR, NORMAN LEWIS, and HUGIE LEE-SMITH blossomed in the heart of these hard times of the 1930's. Support and recognition for the visual artists was forthcoming and grew via the United States government under FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT and the NEW DEAL. He established, in December of 1933, the first federal PUBLIC WORKS OF ART PROJECT (PWAP) under the division of the U.S. TREASURY DEPARTMENT. This created Arts work project was ineffective, and only a few artists received commissions, mostly as MURALISTS for State and Federal buildings (Sylvester 23-47). After four and a half months, the PWAP ceased to function. It was later, in 1935, that President Roosevelt created the WORKS PROGRESS ADMINISTRATION (WPA).

The WPA provided a less restrictive environment for all American artists, but this helped the African-American visual artists to surge to newer heights. Art took on a new meaning. HUMAN and SOCIAL CONDITIONS could be expressed. POLITICS and ART fused, and historical and current social injustices were allowable manifestations in the creation of art pieces. PHILADELPHIA, BOSTON, WASHINGTON, D.C., and SAN FRANCISCO became meccas for a large number of African-American visual artists. The WPA of 1935 gave these artists the necessary time to develop their acclaimed skills. The first in a series of experienced African-American visual artists under the WPA went on to become the first university professors of ART. The WPA also helped in the creation of less restrictive art forms coming from African-American artists. MIXED MEDIA, ABSTRACT ART, CUBISM, and SOCIAL REALISM were now acceptable and desirable creative expressions.

When the artists of the WPA began to swell in numbers, they united and formed the HARLEM ARTISTS GUILD in 1935. This beginning helped to organize groups of artists into unions which allowed them to share in available places for exhibiting their works. Churches, storefront, and community-based fundraising efforts came on the scene, and finally it became in vogue to celebrate the creations of the African-American Visual Artists. The Harlem Artists Guild therefore became a catalyst and model for the support and development of other COMMUNITY ART CENTERS in larger cities across America. These centers now provided studio space plus free classes in a variety of expanded visual art forms. DRAWING, SCULPTING, PRINTMAKING, PAINTING, POTTERY, QUILTING, WEAVING, and PHOTOGRAPHY were some of the skills developed by promising visual artists. But, by 1938, the WPA was in trouble, and the HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON APPROPRIATIONS called it costly and that the art projects were "fraught and subversive (Ford 47-66)." By the end of 1939, the entire WPA and arts projects division were terminated, and many African-American artists had to give up on the ...
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