Art Works: The New Deal Lives On

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New Deal–Era Art in Downtown Vermillion

September 2–7 the VCA is hosting Art Works: The New Deal Lives On, a joint exhibit with the USD University Art Galleries, in the First Dakota Coyote Gallery at 12 E. Main Street. Art Works will feature prints commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1930s and 1940s from the USD Art Galleries permanent collection.

Threshing  (1941) by Thomas Hart Benton will be one of the lithograph prints on display September 2–7.

Threshing (1941) by Thomas Hart Benton will be one of the lithograph prints on display September 2–7.

A short series of talks on local ties to the history of the WPA, the collection of prints, and the artists who created them will be held from 11:00am to noon, followed by a tile-painting workshop where participants can create a piece to contribute to a USD student–led public art mosaic project and enjoy New Deal–era songs performed by the Public Domain Tune Band from 1:00pm to 3:00pm.

Red Steakhouse will also feature drinks from the New Deal era during the week of September 2, including the Hanky Panky, the Last Word, and the Bees Knees.

Inspiration for Art Works as an exhibit was twofold, according to VCA director Shannon Cole. “We had an opportunity around Labor Day to celebrate the importance of art as work and artists as workers. And it just so happens that USD has a great piece of WPA history in its collection and a student who’s focused on public art. It’s been a really cool convergence.”

“Part of our mission is to apply the galleries’ permanent collection as a research tool,” said USD Art Galleries director Amy Fill. “We’re excited about how this exhibition does that through community engagement and intergenerational learning.”

Levi Sternburg models the concrete form of his first bench, which will be covered in tiles painted by members of the Vermillion community during the workshop on Saturday, September 7.

Levi Sternburg models the concrete form of his first bench, which will be covered in tiles painted by members of the Vermillion community during the workshop on Saturday, September 7.

Levi Sternburg is the USD student artist who will lead the art workshop on September 7. His planned public art piece is a series of tiled benches to be installed in the USD Sculpture Garden. “I’m interested in bringing community members together through art. The goal is to create a 3D sculptural element that can be used—that’s part of the community space as much as community members are.”

Created in 1936, the Federal Art Project was a lesser-known arm of the WPA, which itself was an “alphabet soup” organization developed under Franklin D. Roosevelt’s ambitious New Deal designed to pull the nation out of the Great Depression. Artists were paid a fair price for their work, which was then sold at a moderate price to individuals and institutions, to ensure all people had access to art in their homes and in public spaces.

“The WPA was a big change for artists,” said Sternburg. “Maybe there is change soon for how art is generated. Educating how art changed in the past could help people understand how could change in the future.”

Art historian Dr. Lauren Freese agrees. “Projects like this continue the mission of the New Deal art programs by making works of art and creative experiences available to everyone.”

All members of the community are welcome to attend the lectures and the workshop. Come for the history and stay for the tile painting!