Associated Organizations

Work Projects Administration


During the 1930s, as a way of providing relief to artists during the Great Depression, the U.S. federal government sponsored some programs to help employ  artists. There were several programs over time. Below is a discussion of each program.

The Public Works of Art Project was the first federal relief program for artists. It began  in December 1933 and ran until June 1934. This was administered through the U.S. Treasury Department and it was a part of the Civil Works Administration, the predecessor of the W.P.A. 

The participating artists  were tasked with creating works of art to “embellish” public buildings under the general theme of The American Scene.  The artists were able to work in whatever medium they liked and create whatever they wanted. The organizing committee created 16 regions within the project. Missouri was included in Region 7, which also included Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa.  In region 7, a total of 89 artists participated. The organizing committee for region 7 consisted of a Director:  Louis LaBeaume, president, City Art Museum of St. Louis, Chief Clerk; Albert J. McGroarty, and members of the committee. Representing Missouri was Rossiter Howard, the director of the Kansas City Art Institute, Kansas City. 

This project was succeeded by the Federal Art Project under the management of the Works Progress Administration. This program ran from 1935 to 1943, and it employed 5,000 artists who created 225,000 works of art including easel paintings, murals, sculptures, posters and graphic arts. The program was a decentralized program, and was administered at the state level.  The Federal Art Project also sponsored community art centers in many states, including Missouri. The director of the program, Holger Cahill, had as a goal of the program that it would teach average people to appreciate art, by integrating art into everyday life. The Index of American Design was a part of the Federal Art Project. Begun in 1935, and lasting until 1943, the project recorded with drawings and watercolor sketches 22,000 works of American craft and folk art. The purpose of the project was to record American material culture.

The Section of Painting and Sculpture, Treasury Department: was a continuation of the Public Works of Art project. It would take one percent of Treasury funds to secure art to embellish public buildings. This program granted commissions to artists through competitions, so the artists who participated did not have to qualify for relief aid.  The Treasury Department also ran the Treasury Relief Art Project from 1935-1943.

Select Sources

Ann Prentice Wagner, 1934: A New Deal for Artists (Washington: Smithsonian American Art Museum, 2009).

Martin G. Towey, “Design for Democracy: The People’s Art Center in St. Louis,” in Art in Action: American Art Centers and the New Deal, ed. John Franklin White (Meutchen: The Scarecrow Press, 1987), 79-97.

United States. Department of the Treasury, Public Works of Art Project: Report of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury to Federal Emergency Relief Administrator: December 8, 1933 – June 30, 1934 (Washington: US G.P.O., 1934).


Roberta Wagener, Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Record Published

Published on September 20, 2021

Washington, D. C.
Known As
Works Progress Administration
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