The Art Angle Podcast: The Surprising Lessons of FDR’s New Deal Art Programs

This week, critic Ben Davis on how we can learn from the past to recover for the future.

A WPA mural at the Cohen Building, Washington, D.C. Photo: Carol M. HIghsmith/Buyenlarge/Getty Images.

Welcome to the Art Angle, a podcast from Artnet News that delves into the places where the art world meets the real world, bringing each week’s biggest story down to earth. Join host Andrew Goldstein every week for an in-depth look at what matters most in museums, the art market, and much more, with input from our own writers and editors, as well as artists, curators, and other top experts in the field.


Shockingly enough, we are now coming up on the one-year anniversary of the lockdown of the United States. At this point last year, a creeping dread had begun to blanket the globe. And then, in March, it happened: COVID hit the East Coast and fanned out across the country, and within weeks whole areas of society were slammed shut, like windows during a hurricane.

In the art world, as everywhere else, the costs of the closures were immediately palpable with widespread furloughs and job cuts across the sector, enormous projected financial pain, and predictions of museums and galleries alike going dark for good.

Facing this economic catastrophe, many pundits in the art world quickly looked back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, and in particular, the Works Progress Administration for inspiration on how to meet the moment today. With Joe Biden in the White House, hopes for such an ambitious federal project have peaked.

But do we really understand the lessons of the New Deal’s art projects? And are they really the example we should be looking to today? To discuss, Artnet News’s chief art critic Ben Davis joins the podcast to flesh out the triumphs and failures of the past, and help us understand what needs to happen in the future.

Listen above and subscribe to the Art Angle on Apple PodcastsSpotifySoundCloud, or wherever you get your podcasts. (Or catch up on past episodes here on Artnet News.)

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