Public Works of Art Project (PWAP) (1933)

The PWAP was created on December 8, 1933 out of funding provided by the Federal Emergency Relief Administrator, who allocated money from the recently-created Civil Works Administration [1].  It was supervised by L.W. Robert, Jr., Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, but should not be confused with the later Treasury Post Office art program.

The PWAP was established “as one of the agencies to extend relief to the professional class, its object being to employ artists who were unemployed in the decoration of public buildings and parks” [2].  In addition, the PWAP was “the first federal government program to support the arts nationally” [3].

During its short 5-month life in 1933-34, the PWAP employed 3,749 artists, who created 15,663 works of art.  These works included 7 Navajo blankets, 9 bas reliefs, 42 frescoes, 99 carvings, 314 drawings, 647 sculptures, 1,076 etchings, and 3,821 oil paintings.  Such works of art decorated public schools, orphanages, public libraries, and “practically every type of public building.”  Museums sought and displayed the work, and many Americans were “made familiar for the first time with the contemporary art of their own country…” [4].

A little over $1.3 million was spent on the project (about $23 million in 2015 dollars), with nearly $1.2 million going towards the artists’ paychecks [5].

In addition to supervision by L.W. Robert, Jr., the PWAP had an advisory committee consisting of Frederic A. Delano (Chairman), Charles Moore, Rexford Tugwell, Harry Hopkins, Henry Hunt, and Edward Bruce (Secretary).  Forbes Watson served as the PWAP’s technical director [6].

The PWAP was terminated on May 20, 1934 [7], but the spirit behind the project lived on in many other New Deal initiatives, such as the post office art sponsored by the U.S. Treasury and the Federal Project Number One art programs within the Works Progress Administration.

Sources: (1) Eleanor Mahoney, The Public Works of Art Project in Washington State, University of Washington, 2012,, accessed February 8, 2015.  (2) Public Works of Art Project, Report of the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, to Federal Relief Administrator, December 8, 1933 – June 30, 1934, Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1934, p. 1.  (3) Smithsonian Institute, Exhibitions, 1934: A New Deal for Artists,, accessed February 8, 2015.  (4) See note 2, pp. 5-9.  (5) Ibid. at p. 5.  (6) Ibid. at p. ii.  (7) Ibid., p. v.