The Art of Propaganda and Reawakening Public Confidence During the New Deal

The Art of Propaganda and Reawakening Public Confidence During the New Deal Franklin D. Roosevelt once said: “always the heart and soul of our country will be the heart and soul of the common man”(Franklin Roosevelt, campaign address, Cleveland, Ohio, November 2, 1940). The stock market crash of 1929 helped spiral the United States economy into what came to be known as The Great Depression (~1929-1939). During this time the American government was overwhelmed with problems ranging from extremely high national unemployment to natural resource depletion; the United States was in shambles.

Franklin D. Roosevelt was faced with many of these issues during his presidency and started a government program to help kick start America’s economy and public optimism; this program was called The New Deal. The New Deal included the creation many smaller government departments and programs. The program focused on in this essay is the Works Project Administration (WPA), but more specifically the Federal Project Number One, which aimed to assist people of the arts out of depression and simultaneously getting into the minds of Americans and regaining their confidence.

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The Great Depression came at a time when America was at the forefront against the push of communism and even fascism. Americans were loosing confidence in the government as well as having feelings of anger towards the seemingly over-abuse of power. Americans were feeling like their government was tightening in on their freedom. There was also much concern with the “profound changes in the role of the Federal government wrought by the New Deal (The Great Depression and the Arts)”.

The House of Representatives established an Un-American Activities Committee to investigate the possibility of procommunist and pro-fascist groups. This made it especially difficult for the FAP because Americans were not only afraid of its affiliations, but also with the unnecessary expenditures of crucial governmental funds. In hopes of putting millions of Americans back to work, Franklin D. Roosevelt created the WPA in 1935. According to the United States National Archives and Records Administration, on September 12, 1935 the “federal arts program approved as WPA-sponsored Federal Project No. …to provide employment for qualified artists, musicians, actors, and authors…. consisted of the Federal Art, Music, Theatre, and Writers’ Projects (Records of Works Projects Administration). The Federal Project One handled much of the poster making for the advertisement of WPA programs and the Federal Arts Projects. In 1936 the silkscreen process “was adapted and refined for the mass production of posters by project artist Anthony Velonis”; something everyone in the United States is exposed to everyday (Posters from the WPA).

Poster making was a collaborative effort between many artists and the silk screening technicians. This collaboration made the process a multi-employee structure, giving more artists the chance to work. The posters depicted “various programs and projects sponsored by the government: health and safety programs, cultural programs including art exhibitions and theatrical and musical performances, travel and tourism, educational programs, and community activities (Posters from the WPA).

The government was trying to encourage Americans to get up and get working in the new jobs they were creating, to enjoy artistic expression at local exhibits, to see a play and even to follow their own artistic ambitions. Although the FAP was a success and took many artists off the street and put them into the working world, their efforts were short winded when World War II broke out. WWII brought the United States out of the depression and the use of propaganda was immense, but it was war sanctioned art instead of the artistically sanctioned art, as it was during the Great Depression.

The WPA encouraged artistic freedoms and only expressed their need for propaganda advertisements. Although soon, changing public opinion and encouraging the United States turned into wartime propaganda. By 1942 “all the remaining WPA art projects were transferred to the Defense Department to become the Graphics Section of the War Service Division. In the history of the WPA art projects, over two million posters were printed from thirty-five thousand designs.

Today, only about two thousand of the posters produced by all the poster divisions are known to exist. (Posters from the WPA). The idea behind a lot of the New Deal Programs was that if Americans worked in governmental bodies and put money back into the economy, then the United States would come out of the depression. The problem was getting Americans to trust the government and to get themselves out of depression. The WPA was a huge success in getting Americans back into the working world.

Even with its public scrutiny, the FPA got thousands of artists off the streets and into the business of encouraging other Americans to do the same. The FPA was especially vital when it came time for propaganda during WWII and created even more jobs for artists. The New Deal opened new doors for many Americans and the WPA’s belief in the arts allowed many Americans to pursue their dreams, leading to the overall success during WWII and the media based society we live in today.

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