Spoon River College art teacher Jamie Kotewa and art students Destiny Evans, Rachel Hickle, Keeara Virag, and Justice Westlake recently viewed the Works Project Administration (WPA) art exhibit on display at the Dickson Mounds State Museum near Lewistown.
As part of the Roosevelt Administration’s New Deal, the Federal Art Project (FAP) employed artists based on financial need to portray “the hardships and the hopes of American life during the Great Depression (1929-1939),” when more than 20% of the American workforce was unemployed. In exchange for the art, they were given a weekly wage, art supplies, and exhibition opportunities.
“This particular exhibit was powerful to me, as an instructor, because of the depth of the printmaking approaches it showcased,” Kotewa said. “Historically, the pieces also provide an important snapshot of life during the depression. Artists were making intentional decisions about how to manipulate and represent space and people within those spaces. Their choices of what printmaking process to use also impacts how the imagery becomes interpreted. Nearly a century later, we can see ripple effects from the choices those artists made. It’s really neat to be able to make connections between artworks across time.”
By the time the project was disbanded in 1943, approximately 5,000 artists had created 2,566 murals, 17,744 sculptures, 108,899 easel paintings, 11,285 designs for a quarter-million fine art prints, 22,000 Index of American Design plates, and 35,000 designs for two millions posters.
In Illinois, approximately 800 artists produced more than 500 sculptures and 200 murals, and nearly 5,000 designs for two millions posters.