The Works Progress Administration was an anomaly in American cultural history. It was formed in 1935 by President Franklin Roosevelt with the intent of providing jobs for people who had been left unemployed by the Great Depression. But it didn’t just give work to skilled laborers and industrial workers. It also created paid jobs for writers and artists.
“The WPA was really interesting as a social experiment,” says Louise Lincoln, curator of the DePaul Art Museum, whose current exhibit, “Ink, Paper, Politics,” shows off 55 WPA-era prints recently donated by Belverd Needles Jr. and Marian Powers Needles, accounting professors (he at DePaul, she at Northwestern) who have been collecting for 40 years. “It was hugely controversial at the time, similar to Obamacare now. It raised questions about the government’s responsibility to its citizens and about how we should be spending precious tax dollars.”
Before the 1930s, Lincoln says, many Americans