The Federal Art Project: 1935-1943

This photograph of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at the White House preparing to give a national address about the establishment of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a national work relief program, and Social Security. The fireside chat took place on April 28, 1935 and was the only fireside chat delivered that year.

One of the subdivisions of President Roosevelt’s WPA program was Federal Project Number One, known as “Federal One.” Federal One offered a “New Day” of job opportunities for the artistic community members, including artists, actors, directors, writers, and musicians, so they could reap the relief benefits of the New Deal.1

Selma Burke, WPA Artist, 1935 | Archives of American Art | Federal Art Project, Photographic Division

The five divisions of Federal Project Number One included:

Federal Art Project • Federal Music Project • Federal Theatre Project • Federal Writers’ Project • Historical Records Survey (originally part of the Federal Writers’ Project)1,2

Under the Federal Art Project (FAP), artists collectively created thousands of murals, sculptures, paintings, prints, posters, photographs and objects of craft. The goal of the FAP was to provide jobs for unemployed artists. Under this program, murals were painted in many public buildings, including schools. The FAP was the largest of the New Deal art programs in both its scope and the number of artists employed.3

Under the direction of art critic and curator Holger Cahill, the FAP operated in all 48 states and instituted divisions for easel painting, murals, sculpture, posters, prints and drawings.4

Symbol of the Federal Art Project | United States Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division

The FAP division of the WPA tended to favor figurative art rather than abstract art; a trend that resulted in many of the century’s greatest abstract painters creating rather uncharacteristic art. In the summer of 1937 the U.S. government announced that all WPA workers had to be legal U.S. citizens.4

The Federal Art Project was just one of several government-sponsored art programs of the period. Others included the Public Works of Art Project (PWAP, 1933-34), the Department of the Treasury’s Section of Painting and Sculpture (1934-42; renamed the Section of Fine Arts in 1938), and its Treasury Relief Art Project (TRAP, 1935-38).5

2. The Eleanor Roosevelt Projects paper,
3. Diane Althouse, The Historic Dimension Series, April 2006
5. The Library of Congress,

Watch and Listen – Voices of the WPA



Franklin Roosevelt: Fireside Chat #7 - April 28, 1935


Audio with transcript

Franklin Roosevelt: Fireside Chat #7 - April 28, 1935


Closed caption video

WPA Faces and Families - Norwalk in the Depression