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Letter on Federal Art Project

Letter on Federal Art Project/tiles/non-collection/c/c_066imgtile1.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration
Letter on Federal Art Project/tiles/non-collection/c/c_066imgtile2.xml
Image courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration


Arthur Emptage, national executive secretary for the American Artists’ Congress, sent this statement to an investigator working for the Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on the Works Progress Administration in 1939. He gave full-throated support to the Federal Art Project (FAP) of the Works Progress Administration (WPA): “It is . . . the considered judgment of this organization of artists that the achievements of the Federal Art Project are so many and so varied, so valuable an [sic] so full of promise for the future life of this nation that it merits the complete support of every American.” The American Artists’ Congress formed in 1936 and adopted bylaws calling for “solidarity among artists, permanent government financing for art, support for freedom of expression, and opposition to the war.” Its support of the FAP dovetailed with its activism.

As a high-profile component of the WPA, cultural projects like the FAP were an easy target for critics of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal programs. In July 1938, Chairman Martin Dies, Jr., of the House Special Committee on Un-American Activities announced an investigation into two WPA cultural programs: the Federal Writers’ and Theatre Projects. Dies fanned suspicions among the public and Congress that communists controlled the employment decisions for FAP. Many FAP artists depicted the working class and those on the margins of society, which investigators saw as confirmation of communist sympathies.

On March 27, 1939, the Committee on Appropriations also began investigating the WPA, establishing a special subcommittee led by Appropriations Chairman Edward Taylor. House Resolution 130 authorized the Committee on Appropriations to “conduct a thorough investigation and study of the Works Progress Administration and the administration of the laws, regulations, and orders administered by it.” FAP was scrutinized, along with other initiatives to provide relief to artists, actors, musicians, and writers, and bring American art into the daily lives of citizens.

After conducting hearings and gathering evidence from across the country, the Appropriations Committee concluded that its investigation, combined with the passage of the Emergency Relief Act of 1939, had remedied some of the administrative issues at the WPA. However, it did not recommend that the WPA (then renamed the Work Projects Administration) be made a permanent relief program. Facing congressional pressure and budget cuts, the WPA, including all remaining FAP projects, was dissolved in 1943.

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