In the aftermath of the stock market crash of 1929 and the ensuing Great Depression, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) initiated his New Deal with the aim of putting unemployed Americans back to work. The New Deal consisted of numerous federally funded programs and agencies, which included the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
The WPA created millions of jobs for the American people, one in four of whom were unemployed. WPA workers built thousands of highways, airports, bridges, hospitals, post offices, libraries, and schools – including the Midwood campus of Brooklyn College. The college was originally located in various buildings in downtown Brooklyn.
New York City Mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia (1882-1947), succeeded in securing five million dollars in federal funds for the construction of the new campus. In December 1934, the city approved the purchase of the land, once used by the Ringling Bros.
Barnum and Bailey Circus, and within two years, WPA workers built most of the college’s buildings and landscaped its grounds. On October 28, 1936, FDR came to Brooklyn to dedicate the neo-Georgian campus, designed by architect Randolph E. Evans (1901-1974).
From 1934-1942, FDR’s New Deal provided jobs for thousands of artists, musicians, actors, dancers, writers, and historians through various WPA projects. Brooklyn College is fortunate to have thirty-five WPA paintings, two murals, and a number of prints. This exhibit shows thirteen of those paintings, which were recently restored, as well as posters and other content on display that are representative of the art and work supported by branches of the WPA.
The WPA art programs reflect the government’s function, for the first time, in fostering the role of the arts in public life and bringing artists closer to everyday Americans. This exhibit is a reminder of Brooklyn College’s past, and its connections to the present and future. Creativity will continue to be nurtured and supported in this newest addition to our campus: the Leonard & Claire Tow Center for the Performing Arts.
“We not only have to put to work many thousands of good people who needed work; but we are also improving the educational facilities of this great Borough, not just today but for generations to come.”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Remarks at the dedication of Brooklyn College, October 28, 1936