Crisis, Conflict, and Creativity: The Cultural Impact of the WPA Arts Projects in Michigan, 1935-1943
The WPA of the 1930s was the umbrella organization for many programs that ranged from strengthening infrastructure to producing art work. Besides providing employment to thousands of creative Michiganders and exposing the general public to original art for the first time, Michigan Federal One artists strove to separate art from the trappings of social class by using art to foster agitation and social awareness in order to delegitimize the federal idyllic aesthetic and expose the numerous levels of conflict between the elite and the working class, professionals and amateurs, politicians and artists, as well as between artists and their audience. By making art a part of as many Michiganders’ lives as possible as a vehicle for expression and personal enrichment, the project was recourse against those who had historically held a monopoly on beauty and aesthetics. Federal One, with all its faults, provided a constructive outlet for rebellion in Michigan and defined the duty of artists as producing work with a purpose, not just art for art’s sake, while at the same time to open a dialogue between artists and society that had not existed in the state before.
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