Art & Culture During the Great Depressions

Art & Culture During the Great Depression
The New Deal
Taking office in March 1933, President Franklin D.
Roosevelt’s New Deal relief measures were sent to
Congress and within months, most of the acts the
president wanted were passed. New Mexicans
welcomed New Deal programs of all kinds. Some
of the New Deal programs, such as the Works
Progress Administration (WPA), put people to
work in varying jobs: writers, artists, and
musicians practiced their trades as employees of
WPA projects, while others who worked for the
WPA built schools and other public buildings,
including the library and the administration
building at the University of New Mexico. By 1936
more than thirteen thousand New Mexicans had
found jobs through this program.
Public Works of Art Project (PWA)
and The Federal Arts Project (FAP)
Between 1933 – 1943, in the depth of the
depression, 167 known artists lived in New
Mexico, all struggling to sell art in a time when
many Americans had little money available even
for necessities. The New Deal’s Works Progress
Administration Art Project provided an
opportunity for artists to create artwork for public
buildings, allowing them to remain independent,
support their families, and enrich and enhance the
The Indian New Deal in New Mexico
The Indian Reorganization Act of June 18, 1934, sometimes
known as the Indian New Deal, was U.S. federal legislation
that secured certain rights to Native Americans, including
Alaska Natives. These include actions that contributed to the
reversal of the Dawes Act's privatization of communal
holdings of American Indian tribes and a return to local selfgovernment on a tribal basis. The Act also restored to
Indians the management of their assets (being mainly land)
and included provisions intended to create a sound economic
foundation for the inhabitants of Indian reservations.
President Roosevelt appointed John Collier as Commissioner
of Indian Affairs (1933 – 1945). Collier took full advantage
of New Deal funds to promote Indian arts and crafts,
increase employment, improve infrastructure on reservations,
and construct schools. Collier was an idealist who struggled
to reform federal Indian policy during his twelve-year term.
Years earlier, during a 1920 visit to his close friend, Taoshe
had embraced Pueblo Indian culture as offering nothing less
than salvation from the ills of Western Civilization.
Famous Artists of New Mexico
According to the New Mexico Art Museum, the following New
Mexico artists were among the many employed in WPA
projects: Pablita Velarde, Maria Martinez, Ila McAfee, Gerald
Cassidy, Will Shuster, Lloyd Moylan, Gisella Loeffler, Eliseo
Rodriguez, Kenneth Adams, Fremont F. Ellis and Peter Hurd.
The area coordinator of the WPA’s Public Works of Art Project
was woodblock printer, painter and marionette-maker Gustave
Baumann, a leading member of the Santa Fe art
community. More than 65 murals with varied subject materials
were created in New Mexico during the Depression.
In addition to these murals, the WPA sponsored more than 650
paintings, ten sculptural pieces, and numerous indigenous
Hispanic Native American crafts.
The Harlem Renaissance
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that
spanned the 1920s. At the time, it was known as the "New
Negro Movement", named after the 1925 anthology by
Alain Locke. The Movement also included the new AfricanAmerican cultural expressions across the urban areas in the
Northeast and Midwest United States affected by the Great
Migration (African American), of which Harlem was the
largest. Though it was centered in the Harlem
neighborhood of New York City, in addition, many
francophone black writers from African and Caribbean
colonies who lived in Paris were also influenced by the
Harlem Renaissance
Harlem Renaissance: Writing
The most important writing for the Harlem Renaissance was
Nigerati. The Niggerati was the name used, with deliberate
irony, by Wallace Thurman for the group of young African
American artists and intellectuals of the Harlem Renaissance.
"Niggerati" is a portmanteau of "nigger" and "literati". The
rooming house where he lived, and where that group often met,
was similarly christened Niggerati Manor. The group included
Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and several of the
people behind Thurman's journal FIRE!! (which lasted for one
issue in 1926), such as Richard Bruce Nugent (the associate
editor of the journal), Jonathan Davis, Gwendolyn Bennett, and
Aaron Douglas.
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursèd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
The Harlem Renaissance:
In Alain LeRoy Locke’s 1925 the essay “The
New Negro” stated how African American’s
have imbedded themselves into United
States Culture. Many of these intellectuals
were the first African Americans to do create
writing and filmmaking. The main
contributors were W. E. B. Du Bois, James
Weldon Johnson, Charles Spurgeon
Johnson, and Marcus Grevy.
Who was S.B. Fuller?
The Harlem Reissuance: “Negrotarian” Patrons
Many writers took inspiration from this cultural movement.
People such as Charlotte Mason, Carl Van Vetchen, and
Arthur Spigmen all have had influence in the Harlem
Reissuance whether it be education reform, photography, or
Aspects of African American Culture During the Depression
In 1929, the Great Depression devastated the
United States. Hard times came to people
throughout the country, especially rural blacks.
Cotton prices plunged from eighteen to six
cents a pound. Two thirds of some two million
black farmers earned nothing or went into
debt. Hundreds of thousands of
sharecroppers left the land for the cities,
leaving behind abandoned fields and homes.
Even "Negro jobs" -- jobs traditionally held by
blacks, such as busboys, elevator operators,
garbage men, porters, maids, and cooks -- were
sought by desperate unemployed whites.
Music of the Great Depression
The Great Depression spawned various artists
of many different genres. Most popular was
Jazz combos and Big Bands. Variety of new
forms of jazz, blues, folk, pop, and classical
were made. Music was growing in popularity
and it connected many people during these hard
times. Whether there was songs of saddens or
protest, many artists impacted American culture
Although masses were appealed by all kinds of Jazz
during the Great Depression such as Blues and
Bebop, swing was by far the most popular. Swing is
the basic rhythm of jazz. Swinging means being in
sync with other people and loving it. Swing as a jazz
style first appeared during the Great Depression. The
optimistic feeling of swing lifted the spirits of
everyone in America. By the mid-1930s, a period
known as the "swing" era, big bands were playing this
style of music. Orchestra leaders such as Duke
Ellington, Count Basie, Fletcher Henderson, Paul
Whiteman, and Benny Goodman led some of the
greatest bands of the era.
The Duke
Edward Ellington was b far the
most influential and biggest jazz
artist of the Great Depression.
He not only lead the swing era,
but captivated his audiences
with unique performances.
Although his instrument was
the piano what he really played
was the band itself by making
the jazz orchestra and big band
The Sounds of Protest
The 1930s also saw the continuing growth of the union and
labor movements (the IWW claimed at its peak in 1923 some
100,000 members), as well as widespread poverty due to the
Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, which inspired musicians
and singers to decry the harsh realities which they saw all
around them. It was against this background that folk
singer Aunt Molly Jackson was singing songs with
striking Harlan coal miners in Kentucky in 1931, and writing
protest songs such as "Hungry Ragged Blues" and "Poor
Miner's Farewell," which depicted the struggle for social justice
in a Depression-ravaged America. In New York City, Marc
Blitzstein's opera/musical The Cradle Will Rock, a pro-union
musical directed by Orson Welles, was produced in 1937.
However, it proved to be so controversial that it was shut down
for fear of social unrest.
To say that only Jazz music was dominant
during the great depression would be
inaccurate. Many artists of other realms
became household names that boomed the
radio industry.
The Film Industry
Many industries during the great depression
failed miserably, but the movie industry strived
greater than any one could have expected. This
culminated into what we now refer to as the
golden age of Hollywood. For 15 cents one
could watch a double feature, have a cooked
meal and forget about all the troubles in the
Women of Hollywood
Any young women who can sing and
dance was encouraged to go to
Hollywood. These actresses got paid on
average $125 a month compared to the
normal work forces $35 dollars. However
they earned every cent with their 17 hour
a day schedules and often filmed two
movies at once. Filmmakers were getting
away with more and more on the screen
until the LOD (Legion of Decency), a
catholic group threatened to boycott films.
Shirley Temple
The History: Tales Telling
Transitions to Talkies
Film companies lost
thousands of dollars when
they had to transfer into the
talkies. Most companies
were on the verge of going
out of business. It seemed
like the art form was dying.
MGM was particularly
stubborn and thought that
sound was a fad like 3D
glasses or drive-in theaters.
Eventually they changed and
produced some of the
greatest films under the
direction of Fleming.
Radio Killed the Printed Star
The invention of the radio gave people a
connection to the outside world. Radios were
every where whether it be households, cars, or
bus stations. People who lost everything would
give up their radios because it was there
connection to people. Comedians were the first
to effectively use the radio. Comedians told
hundreds of jokes a week, and many variety
shows also came about. FDR was one of few
presidents who could effectively communicate
through radio.
The Hindenburg Incident
Radio gave some of the largest events ever
to American homes. The fear and excitement
of the Hindenburg incident is one the
moments in history that showed the
potential of radio. Other meaningful events
include the war raging in Europe and the
Limburg child.
War of the Worldss: The Hoax
of the Century
(Other then the Piltdown Man)
The War of the Worlds is an episode of the American radio
drama anthology series The Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was
performed as a Halloween episode of the series on October 30,
1938, and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio
network. Directed and narrated by actor and future
filmmaker Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G.
Wells's novel The War of the Worlds. As America got better people
began to trust the radio. About 25% of listen thought the attack
was real. With the war in Europe people were on edge. Orson
apologized the next day.
National Arts
With the Federal Arts Program in full swing
painters and photographers were given
opportunities to show emotion through
there work.
“I have sympathy for Mr. {Franklin}
Roosevelt because he marches straight
toward his objectives over Congress,
lobbies and bureaucracy”
We sit looking at the floor. No one dares
think of the coming winter. There are
only a few more days of summer.
Everyone is anxious to get work to lay up
something for that long siege of bitter
cold. But there is no work. Sitting in the
room we all know it. That is why we don't
talk much. We look at the floor dreading
to see that knowledge in each other's eyes.
There is a kind of humiliation in it. We
look away from each other. We look at the
floor. It's too terrible to see this animal
terror in each other's eyes ...
Writers of the Great
The 1930s was a very important decade in American
literature. American literary giants like John Steinbeck,
Henry Miller, Margaret Mitchell, and F. Scott Fitzgerald
published works during this period.
Depression era literature was often blunt and direct in
its social criticism.
Steinbeck often wrote about poor, working-class people
and their struggle to lead a decent and honest
life. The Grapes of Wrath is considered his
Nathaniel West's short novel The Day of the Locust,
which introduces a cast of Hollywood stereotypes and
explores the ironies of the movies, has become a classic
of American literature.
Dance Marathons
Dance marathons was a huge part of
entertainment in the first half of the
great depression. People would dance
for days just for a single prize. Some
dances would lasts for months. Many
people paid just to see the dancers and
their stunts. Many dance marathons had
staged dancers that pretended to be
The Golden Age of Baseball
When the Great Depression struck, many baseball
owners feared the worst. They would have trouble
drawing fans. The fans they did draw would have
a hard time paying for the extra souvenirs or food
concessions. Little did they know, people would
still come to the ballpark if only to forget about
their own troubles for a while. Attendance would
be down in the 1930s but none of the sixteen
franchises ever folded or moved as a result of the
Great Depression. New ways of playing emerged,
lasting vestiges of the game emerged, and a new
era of baseball had begun.
The Golden Age of Comics
Comic Book Heroes began spawning from all
sorts of different writers, To enlighten and
entertain the imaginations of both Children and
Adults. Action Comics #1 is considered by some
to be the first superhero comic,
Making Superman the one of the world's first
comic book superheros to be created. Even
though there had been comic books before the
1900's, these were called comic strips DC was one
of the first comic book publishing companies to
do entirely original stories, rather than reprinting
comic strips. Because of Superman's popularity
during that period, superhero comic books slowly
began to dominate that era in comic book history.
Toward the very end of the Great
Depression people were looking
to the future. New technology was
on the horizon and one invention
to kick start this was the television.
A lucky few had one, and there
was hardly any programs. Still
radio companies saw the potential
and invested in television
broadcasting before the boom in
the 50’s.
Back to the Future
Designing Tomorrow explores the modernist
spectacles of architecture and design they
witnessed -- visions of a brighter future during
the worst economic crisis the United States had
known. The fairs popularized modern design for
the American public and promoted the idea of
science and consumerism as salvation from the
Great Depression.
Work Cited
Golay, Michael. America 1933. 1st. ed. New York:
Free Press, 2013. Print.
McElvain, Robert. The Great Depression. 1st ed.
New York: Crown Publishing Group,
1984. Print.
Terkel, Studs. Hard Times. 1st. ed. New York:
W.W. Norton & Company, 1970. Print.
Ruth, Amy. Growing Up in the Great Deppression.
Minneapolis: Lerner , 2003. Print.
Watkins, T.H. The Great Depression. 1st. ed.
Chicago: Blackside, 1993. Print.

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