New York helps artists: a “New Deal” for art

Status: 23.05.2021 3:19 p.m.

Artists, musicians and performers in New York have suffered particularly during the pandemic. To help them get back on their feet, the city is investing millions – for example in appearances or murals.

Peter Mücke,
ARD-Studio New York

More than a year ago, New York Mayor Bill De Blasio ventured a remarkable historical comparison. That was at the beginning of April 2020. The corona pandemic had the city firmly under control. New York in lockdown. Hundreds of people died every day, tens of thousands lost their jobs. The extent of unemployment and economic misery can only be compared with the Great Depression of the 1930s. And that scared him to death, the mayor confessed.

Memories of the 1930s

In fact, around a million New Yorkers lost their jobs during the pandemic. Which in a country like the USA often means suddenly running out of money for food and rent. The areas of culture, entertainment and leisure have been hit particularly hard: two thirds of all jobs have been destroyed here. Which also reminds Lilly Tuttle, the curator of the Museum of the City of New York, of the years after the stock market crash of 1929.

“Unemployment was widespread. People had trouble getting enough to eat,” says Tuttle. “And not just in the visual arts: musicians, actors, authors – everyone was unemployed. This is an interesting parallel to the current situation in which practically the whole world of the performing arts has been on hold for over a year.”

Post offices and prisons as places of art

The solution in the mid-1930s was: “Federal Art Project” – part of the “New Deal” with which the government of US President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched large infrastructure projects and did not forget the artists.

“There have been many, many projects all over the city and of course all over the United States. They took the artists out of their studios and galleries and brought them into public space,” says Tuttle. “Post offices, libraries, prisons, schools, and other public buildings have become places of art by these fantastic artists.”

Documents of a city in upheaval

Among them Jacob Lawrence, Lee Krasner and their partner Jackson Pollock, Stuart Davis, Willem de Kooning – and the photographer Berenice Abbott. “She got involved in the ‘Changing New York’ project, financed by the government,” says the curator. “She took to the streets and climbed rooftops and fire escapes to document the change in New York City in the 1930s.”

The photos can still be seen today in the Museum of the City of New York – one of the most impressive projects in the state’s art program. Another: The murals, which were commissioned by the Federal Art Project in the New York borough of Harlem, says Elizabeth Hutchinson, an art historian at Columbia University.

Artist Georgette Seabrooke is working on a mural for Harlem Hospital.

Bild: picture alliance / akg-images

“Wonderful artists have been hired to paint murals in the library or in the Harlem hospital, where only white doctors worked at the time,” says Hutchinson. “Black artists. They made the people of Harlem see themselves reflected on the walls of these public buildings.”

What does all this have to do with today? A whole lot. New York has been funding “Open Culture” and “NYPopsUp” projects for months – in part with funds from Washington: Artists and musicians perform in parks and on the street. And Mayor De Blasio has even more plans: with the so-called “City Artist Corps”.

Outdoor Appearance: Broadway performers at a pop-up performance in New York.

Image: EPA

“We are still alive”

“We’re going to invest $ 25 million to commission 1,500 artists all over New York. Visual artists, musicians, performers – they should get out into the neighborhoods and create public art, give shows, perform, paint murals,” said the mayor. “We want to give artists the chance that the city will feel the power of this scene again.

De Blasio, who cannot be re-elected after two terms and is leaving at the end of the year, apparently wants him to be remembered by New Yorkers as the savior of art. And that could even succeed, says Lilly Tuttle from the Museum of the City of New York: “De Blasio wants to make it clear: New York is not finished. On the contrary,” she says. “And I think this art in public space is exactly the right instrument to show that we are a pulsating, dynamic city. We are still alive and are definitely on the upswing.”

Publicly commissioned art – New Deal 2.0 for New York

Peter Mücke, ARD New York, May 18, 2021 2:36 p.m.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Recent News