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Creativity in Dark Times: Artists and Writers of the New Deal

Evening Program

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 - 6:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1K0015
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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"Subway", 1934, by Lily Furedi (Smithsonian American Art Museum)


  • This program is part of our Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Online registration is required.
  • For multiple registrations, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses.

When the U.S. and world economies collapsed into the Great Depression in 1929, creatives of all kinds faced a bleak future. Among government programs designed to spur the economy back to life, President Franklin Roosevelt included the Federal Writers’ Project and the Federal Arts Project.

No one expected an American renaissance. Yet FDR said, “One hundred years from now, my administration will be known for its art, not its relief.”

In the age of coronavirus, these arts workers get another look. The Federal Writers’ Project produced scores of travel guidebooks, histories, and a trove of thousands of life histories including the narratives of former slaves. Artists with government support produced landscapes, murals, street scenes, portraits, sculptures, and abstracts.

What does their experience say now? Author David Taylor looks at artists, photographers, and writers whom the New Deal programs assigned the mission of recording American life. Some later ranked among the most creative minds of the 20th century as screenwriters, poets, bestselling novelists, and artists. They included recipients of the National Book Award, the National Medal of Arts, and the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Taylor also discusses how, in focusing on America, those artists could stir controversy, seen in censored travel books, banned works, and murals denounced by citizens’ committees even up to the present. In tracing how these artists cut against the grain of public opinion and convention, Taylor examines their significance today and art’s power in shifting American identities.

Taylor teaches writing at Johns Hopkins University and was lead writer and co-producer of the Smithsonian Channel documentary Soul of a People: Writing America’s Story.

His book Soul of a People: The WPA Writers’ Project Uncovers Depression America (Wiley), now in paperback and audiobook, is available for sale.

Book Sale Information

Patron Information

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