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People Like Ourselves: Forecast for Survey Graphic

by Paul Kellogg

November 1935

The Arts

One silver lining to the depression has been woven by the works program. We had looked to the arts as signs and symbols of a new American culture; the hard times laid them flat. Musicians, painters, sculptors, architects, writers, playwrights, actors, dancers, recreation leaders contributed to the mounting number of the unemployed. And then through the alchemy of FERA "white collar" projects something happened that outran the succor to stranded ar tists. School houses and public buildings throughout the country had their faces lifted with murals. Playgrounds, playstreets and ball fields sprang up like mushrooms. Bands, orchestras, groups of players brought recreation and the gleam of something outside their cares to districts which, in the old army phrase, had nothing to spend but their time. Something was at work that opened wider the inheritance of our people and has "lifted the level of life" for whole neighborhoods and communities. In sequence, the WPA has set aside $27 million as a temporary subsidy to writers, musicians, artists and actors. It is all very experimental, but breaks ground for a conception that parallels our attitude toward public education.

This is only half the story. In any time of change the ferment is felt most quickly among the arts. The poets and novelists catch it, the painters, the composers, the playwrights. The philosophy back of the fiction, for example, takes as many forms as the philosophy men bring to a common experience. But it is sentient to the economic struggle.

In visualizing the stuff of human affairs, Survey Graphic has long made use not only of graphs, charts, maps, but of etchings, paintings, frescos, sculpture. In the coming year we shall interpret the arts themselves as a responsive but developing part of any current history of the 1930s.


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001-2003