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1934: A New Deal for Artists

Buy the 1934 exhibition catalogue

Watch our 1934 Exhibition Slide Show

Visit our Picturing the 1930s educational Web site

Read exhibition-related posts on the Museum's blog Eye Level

Explore artworks nationwide through our Mapping 1934 feature

Add your images from 1934 to our Flickr group

Take an illustrated tour of the exhibition with Co-Curator Ann Wagner (via Quicktime or iTunes).

Read selected reviews and news stories about the exhibition

See if the exhibition tour stops in your hometown

Image for 1934: A New Deal for Artists

Ross Dickinson, Valley Farms, 1934, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Transfer from the U.S. Department of Labor

In 1934, Americans grappled with an economic situation that feels all too familiar today. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's administration created the Public Works of Art Project—the first federal government program to support the arts nationally. Federal officials in the 1930s understood how essential art was to sustaining America's spirit. Artists from across the United States who participated in the program, which lasted only six months from mid-December 1933 to June 1934, were encouraged to depict "the American Scene." The Public Works of Art Project not only paid artists to embellish public buildings, but also provided them with a sense of pride in serving their country. They painted regional, recognizable subjects—ranging from portraits to cityscapes and images of city life to landscapes and depictions of rural life—that reminded the public of quintessential American values such as hard work, community and optimism.

1934: A New Deal for Artists was organized to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Public Works of Art Project by drawing on the Smithsonian American Art Museum's unparalleled collection of vibrant artworks created for the program. The paintings in this exhibition are a lasting visual record of America at a specific moment in time. George Gurney, curator emeritus, organized the exhibition with Ann Prentice Wagner, who is now the curator of drawings at the Arkansas Art Center.

A catalogue, fully illustrated in color and co-published by the Smithsonian American Art Museum and D Giles Ltd. In London, features an essay by Roger Kennedy, historian and director emeritus of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History; individual entries for each artwork by Ann Prentice Wagner; and an introduction by the museum's director Elizabeth Broun. The book is available online and in the museum store for $49.95 (softcover $34).

National Tour
Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C. (February 27, 2009 – January 3, 2010)
Frick Art & Historical Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (January 30, 2010 – April 25, 2010)
Fort Wayne Museum of Art in Fort Wayne, Indiana (May 21, 2010 – August 22, 2010)
Whatcom Museum of History and Art in Bellingham, Washington (September 16, 2010 – January 9, 2011)
The Mennello Museum of American Art in Orlando, Florida (February 11, 2011 – May 1, 2011)
Oklahoma City Museum of Art in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma (May 26, 2011 – August 21, 2011)
Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts in Montgomery, Alabama (September 24, 2011 – January 15, 2012)
Muskegon Museum of Art in Muskegon, Michigan (February 16, 2012 – May 6, 2012)
Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul, Minnesota (June 2, 2012 – September 22, 2012)
New York State Museum in Albany, New York (October 19, 2012 – January 20, 2013)
Chazen Museum of Art in Madison, Wisconsin (February 16, 2013 – April 28, 2013)
Figge Art Museum in Davenport, Iowa (September 28, 2013 – January 5, 2014)

1934: A New Deal for Artists is available for tour to additional venues. If you are interested in hosting the exhibition at your museum, please visit our traveling exhibitions page for contact information.

Flickr Group
The museum created a Flickr group to share the nearly 400 artworks and related objects dated 1934 from its collection. The group contains a set with the paintings on view in the exhibition, and images added by the public who join the group. Check out the growing list of images, comment on your favorites, or add your own images to the group!

Picturing the 1930s
This educational Web site, created by the Museum in collaboration with the University of Virginia, allows online visitors to explore the 1930s through paintings, artist memorabilia, historical documents, newsreels, period photographs, music, and video in a virtual, 3-D movie theater. Visitors to the site can use these materials to create a documentary video and submit it to the virtual theater. New content will debut throughout the spring for each of the eight theme rooms—The Country, The Depression, Industry, Labor, American People, Leisure, The City, and The New Deal.

The Museum's blog Eye Level
Read exhibition-related blog posts including, 1934 All Over Again, Ray Strong Paints the Golden Gate Bridge, On "1934," a Poem by Philip Levine, Looking at 1934: Kenjiro Nomura's The Farm, 1934, Discovering 1934: The Stories Behind the Paintings, and Music for an Exhibition: Sounds of 1934.

Thursday, March 19, 2009; Gallery Talk with Ann Prentice Wagner
Thursday, April 30, 2009; 1934 Film Series: Bound for Glory
Saturday, May 9, 2009; Family Day: Remembering the 1930s
Saturday, May 9, 2009; 1934 Film Series: Annie
Thursday, May 21, 2009; 1934 Film Series: The Grapes of Wrath
Tuesday, June 16, 2009; Coaxing the Soul of America Back to Life with Roger Kennedy
Thursday, June 25, 2009; 1934 Film Series: It Happened One Night
Thursday, July 9, 2009; Gallery Talk with George Gurney
Thursday, July 16, 2009; 1934 Film Series: Imitation of Life
Thursday, August 13, 2009; 1934 Film Series: The Man Who Knew Too Much
Thursday, September 10, 2009; 1934 Film Series: Stand Up and Cheer
Thursday, October 8, 2009; 1934 Film Series: The Gay Divorcee
Friday, October 16, 2009; The Woman Behind the New Deal: The Life of Frances Perkins, FDR's Secretary of Labor and His Moral Conscience with Kirstin Downey
Friday, October 23, 2009; The American Scene in 1934 with Ann Prentice Wagner
Thursday, November 5, 2009; Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits with Linda Gordon
Thursday, November 19, 2009; When Art Worked: The New Deal, Art, and Democracy with Roger Kennedy
Wednesday, December 9, 2009; "Soul of a People,Writing America's History," Film screening and book signing
Sunday, December 13, 2009; Steinway Series, Composers of the Federal Music Project

In the News
National Public Radio, Morning Edition, "1934: Reflecting On America's First Big Art Buy" by Elizabeth Blair
The Washington Post, "American Scenes Tempered by Tough Times" by Michael O'Sullivan
WAMU 88.5, Metro Connection, interview with Elizabeth Broun
Washington Times, "ART: Creativity during hard times" by Deborah Dietsch
BBC World News America, interview with Elizabeth Broun
Smithsonian magazine (online), " What’s the Deal about New Deal Art?" by David Taylor
Smithsonian magazine, " 1934: Picturing Hard Times" by Jerry Adler