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Name and number: Pan Pan GONG 374946 Subject Code and Title: 760-442 Arts Policy and Issues Lecturer’s Name: Brian Long
Pan Pan GONG 2010 University of Melbourne
2008: 386) which comprised a series of relief programs by the government to provide employment across various professions. As private patronage for the arts dwindles. in order to gain a holistic understanding of the relevance of New Deal arts programs to the current situation. Under the current economic situation. before assessing their applicability to contemporary policy. albeit a highly contested move at that time by Franklin Roosevelt (Roosevelt). This essay first reviews the impact of government funding on the arts during the two crises. exacerbated by the protectionist trade policies adopted by governments. With widespread poverty and unemployment. cemented the foundation for the renaissance of American art. which could well turn the current crisis into an opportunity for development of the arts. arts in the USA were funded only by private philanthropy (Katz. which further reduced the financial prowess of the rich. The Depression in the 30s was triggered by the collapse of the stock market in 1929. Prior to the Depression. With the concurrent emergence of new media and entertainment such as movies. around a quarter of the American population became unemployed. the newly elected Roosevelt launched the New Deal (Pohl. As the economy dwindled. In an era where there was an absence of social welfare and support system. Support for the arts under the New Deal program during the Depression. In 1933. the entire nation retreated into a psychological gloom. it would be useful for governments to revisit the New Deal arts programs to draw lessons. taxation for the wealthy increased sharply. this essay proposes that policy-makers act on the democratization principle of the New Deal programs but devise their own initiatives in pursuit of the various objectives. 1984: 2) and the Depression stripped the arts bare of any financial support from their regular patrons due to the sharp decline in their wealth. Acknowledging the different needs and policy expectations of contemporary society and artists.“What can contemporary policy-makers learn from New Deal support programs for the arts?” The impact of the recent Great Financial Crisis (GFC) on life and the economy has been compared to that of the Great Depression (Depression) in countless literatures. An analysis of the impact of various initiatives under the New Deal in democratizing and stimulating growth and development of the arts in America follows. there was a need for the government to provide relief support to the general population. leading to an eventual breakdown in international trade and economy. the Depression further pushed the other art forms and artists into the realm of the lowest Pan Pan GONG 2010 University of Melbourne 2 . government funding has been crucial to the survival of arts organizations and in sustaining the livelihood of artists. including artists. As these programs were funded through tax.
the government encouraged artists to “probe the American experience” (Mathews. the wealthy individuals who were the primary patrons of the arts were hit hard. and their willingness to continue their support to the arts greatly diminished. In such a time. artists and art professionals look to the government for support since private sources of funding and support are scarce. Inflated housing prices caused financial institutions to give out loans at very low rates with low eligibility criteria. Looking at the New Deal arts projects. it is poignant to note the importance of democratization in promoting appreciation and support for the arts. they also reached out to Americans of different ethnicities by featuring migrants and lives of different ethnic groups. Roosevelt’s New Deal treated artists as any other citizen deserving of a job. Similar to the Depression. and attempted to change the public perception of the irrelevance and redundancy of the arts during the crisis through democratization of the arts. 2010: 257) the recession nevertheless brought about a decrease in expenditure in the society. In order to allow the public to better relate to those artworks. 1974: 327). Although the situation is better for the general public this time round due to the presence of various social security schemes (Alumnia et al. as well as the rich investors. 70% of the musicians were jobless. the US government actively commissioned and supported art productions across various art forms. Sophisticated investment products that promised high return based on housing loans were also created by the institutions and sold to the general public. Pan Pan GONG 2010 University of Melbourne 3 . Under the New Deal. Not only did the works appeal to the white Americans.000 artists were employed to create art (Goldbard. The increased accessibility of art in the local community drew millions of visitors to the WPA exhibitions (Mathews.. artists could gain financial support through the Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP) and the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (FAP/WPA) (Pohl.priority for the public1 (Goldbard. 2008: 39). 1 Book sales were halved. the stock market crashed together with the winding up of business for many financial institutions and companies. and painters could only pay their rent with their canvas while actors waited in line for relief (Bustard. 2008). over 40. 2008) with more than 100 arts centers created across America. 1998: 2). and employing artists from different racial backgrounds. When the housing bubble burst. Under the program. 1974: 333-334). It is possible for policy-makers to turn the financial crisis into opportunities for the arts if they are able to make use of the principles of the New Deal in its promotion of the arts. With employment as the driving force. At a time when artists were not regarded seriously by the general population. and borrowers defaulted on the loans. The GFC of the 21st Century was brought about by the same speculative mentality of the investors.
contemporary policy-makers ought to recognize the importance and relevance of cultural democracy under the current crisis. and “*a+rt was seen as another form of work. Policy-makers need to learn from the New Deal government’s promotion and placement of the arts and artists’ role in society. not only do artists gain greater recognition in the society for their work. and it acts as a strong justification for the government’s various funding initiatives to the arts. act as the twin engine that propelled arts funding during the Depression as the government was able to account for and justify such funding expenditure. As Long pointed out. 1974: 319). the government was able to justify this expenditure as it was spent on providing arts for the entire society and the creation of a “community asset” (Mathews. the increase in attendance at arts events was not proportionate to the general growth rate of income or personal wealth even during the economic boom prior to the GFC (Long. the various New Deal arts programs actively engaged the masses in art creation and appreciation and removed the physical. While the dispensability of the arts in the public’s lives has been the basis of major objections towards arts funding. 1974: 330). 2010: 8). By categorizing artists as working citizens who are equally deserving of the New Deal support in job creation. The objective of the government should be to promote the arts to its people in time of crisis—something that has been neglected during economic Pan Pan GONG 2010 University of Melbourne 4 . With the success of the New Deal arts programs in obtaining public acceptance and support for arts funding during the Depression. 1997: 11). funding for the arts also became to be seen as natural as funding for other job creations. along with the justification of job creation. the Depression successfully built a case for arts funding through the concept of democratization of the arts and the employment necessity of artists. and the employment of artists to give drawing and painting lessons to the public (Bustard. The New Deal programs democratized arts through the removal of class boundaries and the increased physical access to the arts. Roosevelt also justified this expenditure on the arts as part of the job creation agenda. With the establishment of 100 over community centers. This phenomenon of the public’s non-engagement with the arts is reminiscent of the situation in the US prior to Depression. especially during the economic crisis.The democratization of the arts principle is central to the New Deal. The increase of access to the arts and the need to create employment for artists. not as an expendable leisure-time activity” (Pohl. Part of the difficulty in accounting for arts funding is due to the fact that the arts has not established itself as a “community asset” that benefits the entire society. cultural and class barrier to the arts. 2008: 390). framing them as equally deserving of support and funding as other professions and products. Although the arts programs were funded through increased taxation. the encouragement for “union locals” and other WPA workers to purchase block tickets to arts events (Mathews.
the pervasiveness on American subject matters across different art forms and art productions also created a strong cultural and arts identity for the Americans. it has greater bargaining power in determining the focus of the arts as compared to other times when commercial sectors or private patrons could fund the arts to develop in directions beyond the will of the government. style. With the strong financial backing of the government. these works laid the foundation for the subsequent development of the American arts that has been able to draw on the rich and diversified resources and strong identity forged during the Depression. In the process of democratizing the arts. as proven by the New Deal programs.” (Bustard. which would be especially effective in a crisis. Pan Pan GONG 2010 University of Melbourne 5 . 1974: 322) to connect and to be relevant to the public. Recognising that the arts need to be “intellectually and emotionally accessible” (Mathews. slave narratives. 1997: 23). As the government is the main patron for the arts during a crisis.663 pieces of art and craft *…+ 40. resulting in the creation of both a strong national identity in the arts and increased appreciation for the relevance of the arts in America. “They *also+ encompassed and included a variety of ethnic groups that had gone largely unnoticed by many in the professional arts community” (Bustard. 1997: 20). This incorporation of social studies into the arts not only made it more relevant to the target audiences from various ethnic groups.426 sketches in 1. but has surfaced as a cause for alarm in crisis— instead of pushing it into greater obscurity. The documentary nature of the works allows them to incorporate the cultures and lives of different ethnic groups and social classes3. celebrating diversity amidst crisis in the American culture. 2010: 4). In the postmodern world with a strong emphasis on cultural diversity by governments (Long. 1974: 325). 1974: 335). the New 2 “15. 1997: 8). an extensive amount of documentary artworks2 that reflected the lives of the people were produced during this period. and ‘work stories’. and technique and needed their own voice” (Bustard. At a time when American arts were said to be enslaved by “European content.000 manuscripts with “a variety of urban and rural folklore. 3 “With an absence of racism *…+ the cultural projects hired unemployed black artists and carried their work to an expanding black audience” (Mathews. Policy-makers should capitalize on the opportunity for the government to forge a strong arts identity through its funding. This in turn amassed a large resource of nationalistic artworks.boom due to the economic sustainability of the arts during that period. ethic ‘life histories’. there is a strong emphasis on national content in the works commissioned by the government under the New Deal.906 competitions—all devoted to American themes” (Mathews. The Federal Writers’ Project also resulted in the creation of 14. the New Deal government also encouraged the incorporation of social themes into artworks and plays to create greater relevance between the arts and the masses.
”(Mathews. Artists. as the arts risks becoming more conventional and monolithic in order to secure greater public acceptance and funding support. The concept of art being novel and experimental then became naturalized into the lives and appreciations of arts amongst the public. According to Higgins. less experienced ones. 5 “Cahill was ideologically prepared to embrace both the fine and practical arts. the people also became more accepting towards and supportive of unconventional artworks which helped to develop an environment that encouraged the dynamic development of American art in the subsequent years. (Bustard. creating a fertile soil for public support of avant-garde art. usually welcomed the advice their supervisors or the Section juries offered. As the large amount of experimental artworks found their ways to the various arts centers. the public gain greater exposure to these kinds of art which in turn caused the public to become more accepting and open-minded to unconventional art pieces6 (Mathews. with “excellence” as their only demand from the works5 (Mathews. the directors welcomed arts in various forms and content. which would turn away the audiences and cause arts to be in a worse financial 4 “the projects were bureaucracies. pushing for greater experimentation in works and independence from political agenda4(Bustard. As the arts gain its way to the hearts and homes of the people. 1997: 17). 1974: 327-328). demanding only excellence in execution as a criterion” (Mathews. policy-makers should create a conducive environment for the creation of experimental artworks as during the Depression. 1974: 328-329) 6 “people grew to appreciate what they saw *…+ with a new openness to experimentation in subject matter and style. applied WPA’s label to everything from a modern dance version of a Greek classic to vaudeville. 1974: 327-328) Pan Pan GONG 2010 University of Melbourne 6 . it also enabled the successful creation of a strong cultural identity for its people. Under certain arts projects. Instead of restricting the growth of and diversity in American art. 1974: 328-329). Many art administrators were artists themselves who were remembered fondly by those they supervised. In light of the current crisis. for all her emphasis on experimentation. especially younger.Deal case shed light to how the government could possibly maintain or even build their own cultural identity in spite of the dominance of an ‘alien’ culture. who tried to allow artists as much freedom as possible. but they were generally humane ones. 1997: 17). the New Deal’s democratization effort evoked better appreciation of experimental art amongst the public as the administrators of the programs did not overlook the intrinsic values of art. And Flanagan. the uncertainty in funding sources would lead to more conservative programming and arts productions in arts organizations. The principle of being emotionally relevant and accessible to the general public not only further the democratization of the arts. and who would try to fight political interference. Despite the emphasis on nationalistic artworks. many artists were given a lot of room for freedom of expression as the art administrators of the various programs were artists themselves and they were at the frontier.
predicament than before7 (Higgins. Policy-makers should also be wary of creating a strong national art identity simply through commissioning large amount of works with high national content as such a move might not guarantee the public’s emotional and intellectual engagement with the arts. creating art projects on a large scale would run contrary to the free-market economy where governments are non-interventionist in nature. he said ‘we could enter a perfect storm where all sources of income are endangered. This is in contrast with the Pan Pan GONG 2010 University of Melbourne 7 . The policy-makers could only attempt to justify expenditure of the arts through the other instrumental values of the arts. However. 2009). 2009). In this case. and would not complement the development of contemporary arts. thus nationalistic arts has less of a place in the public’s life. It then appears to bottom out in the spring of 2009 and has since shown strong signs of recovery. 2009). As big arts organizations are usually run by non-artists who might not value intrinsic values of art above its market value. in the period 7 “unless the government holds its nerve on arts spending. Artistic directors would become less risk-taking. What would happen is that boards of trustees would become conservative. While the need to increase public access to and a sense of relevance of the arts is vital. it would be important for policy-makers to learn from the New Deal government in building up public’s trust in the government’s arts funding decisions by increasing the arts’ relevance and access to the public. it is crucial for policy-makers to realize the importance of encourage greater diversity and experimentation in the arts by providing monetary incentives and freedom to create. The New Deal government could account for its direct intervention and support to the arts due to the complete absence of social security across all professions during the Depression and that artists deserve equal economic and employment support. to do so entirely through large-scale job creation projects and direct employment of artists would be difficult to justify in the current situation. 2002: 283) for the people. with social schemes in place for the general population now. The work would become less interesting and audiences would stop coming”(Higgins. and the development of the economy in years following the GFC has been optimistic8. The Depression lasted for more than a decade along with widespread “psychological depression” in the US (Dickstein. The public is much better cushioned by the social schemes in this crisis. This. The arts was able to be emotionally impactful to the public then because the celebration of commonness and the American experience served as “social therapy” (Gibson. Furthermore. leads to a chicken-and-egg problem as the government would need to account for its investment in experimental artworks in the initial stage before the public could become more open to such works so that in turn the government could justify its support for these works. 8 “global industrial production fell about as fast as in the first year of the Great Depression. however.
and rightly bridged the public’s need for emotional stimulation with artists’ ability and willingness to fulfill such need given the social and economic situation at the time. in 1931. Contemporary policymakers should be inspired by the New Deal government’s democratization vision for the arts. output fell on average for three successive years” (Almunia et al. as it rode on the tide of nationalistic arts movements. The Depression came at a right time for the arts in America.leading up to the Depression.. 2010: 224). and find their own bridge between the society’s expectation of the arts and arts’ current direction of development. nationalistic arts movements had already been gaining popularity 9 (Bustard. current development in the arts has been more eclectic and resistant towards being ‘inward-looking’. Pan Pan GONG 2010 University of Melbourne 8 . 9 “Even before the Depression. 2745 words Depression: while there were two periods of recovery (the second do which. strong national and regionalist arts movements were already flourishing” (Bustard. Whereas. It is important for the government to realize that in time of crisis. when private funding for the arts dries up. Contemporary policy-makers should understand that a vibrant arts scene and strong cultural identity need not necessarily point towards nationalistic artworks. 1997: 23) so the government’s intervention was not contrary to the natural development of the arts. 1997: 23). it is all the more important that the arts is made available to the public so that a healthy and dynamic arts scene could blossom when the financial draught is over. so bringing nationalistic agenda to the arts would not necessarily stimulate a strong arts scene and artists participation as before. and could be forged with greater openness and support to innovation in the local arts which is capable of forming its own unique cultural identity. was fairly substantial).
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