Thursday, April 22, 2010

Arts Can Play Role in Economic Recovery


By Martha Richards

When facing tough times, most Americans turn to the arts. We crank up our favorite songs on the radio, go to a movie, or settle in for an evening of “Dancing with the Stars.” And yet as our country struggles through one of its worst economic periods, our leaders seem oblivious to the pivotal role the arts can play in our recovery.

Seventy-five years ago our leaders made better use of our cultural strengths. When President Roosevelt led the country during the Great Depression of the 1930s, he understood that the arts generated hope and community pride, and he invested in them as part of his recovery strategy.

The centerpiece of his recovery program was the massive Works Progress Administration (WPA), and it supported arts, drama, media, oral history and literacy programs side by side with programs to construct public buildings and roads. The WPA employed more than 40,000 artists, including many of the best artists of the period, such as Eudora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston, Louise Nevelson, Langston Hughes, Orson Welles and Arthur Miller. These artists eventually became American cultural icons, but during the Depression, they were out of work along with everyone else.

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