Why did the government promote the arts in the 1930's?U.S. History

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Lorraine Caplan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

During the 1930's, we were in the middle of a depression.  In fact, this was such a severe depression that we usually capitalize the word, and sometimes call it the "Great Depression."  This is akin to our calling World War I the "Great War" because it was the only world war up to that time.    It was not until we had a second world war that we started the numbers.  Since we are now in the midst of what appears to be a serious depression, it will be interesting to see if our depressions get numbered, too. 

Now, to return to your question, there was incredible unemployment in the Great Depression, with more than 25% of Americans being unemployed.  That is about 2 1/2 times worse than things are right now.  People desperately needed work and Roosevelt created a series of programs to put people back to work.  The programs were not designed to help private industry; they were designed for the public good.  Such programs put people to work improving parks and roads, taking care of forests, and innumerable other public improvements.  The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was the agency that oversaw most of these programs. 

In addition to employing people to build roads, and so on, the WPA employed writers, artists, photographers, and musicians, including people like Jackson Pollack and Richard Wright.  These people generated an incredible body of work that we still cherish today.  Many of the murals we see today in public buildings of depression vintage were done by artists through the WPA. The Slave Narratives, stories that would have been completely lost to us, were done by people employed by the WPA.  Thus Roosevelt managed to create great beauty and meaning in the middle of the Great Depression!