Art For The Millions

Episodes

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During the Great Depression, the US government turned to the arts for national uplift.

In the middle of the greatest national crisis since the Civil War the American Government looked to the arts to both help lift the national spirit and spread the message of the New Deal. The writer Marybeth Hamilton begins her journey through this remarkable but short lived experiment with the story of fine arts.Collectively, it was hoped, Americans could renew democracy and create a better tomorrow through participation and exposure to music, art and theater. The W.P.A. was an extension of Federal Relief, meaningful work for those that needed it and qualified for it. Which meant the talents of thousands of unemployed actors, musicians, writers and artists across the nation could be put to use in the betterment of all. On the government payroll and under the auspices of Federal One, a host of talents from Jackson Pollock to Arthur Miller, Orson Welles to Zora Neale Hurston helped democratize art. For the people, by the people with the people.

Across the nation, artists painted epic murals in small towns and vast cities that valorized work and workers or America's democratic past. Community art centres brought artists, students and the public together to learn, experiment and explore the possibilities of art for all. You could find art going on at subway stations, sewerage works and public schools. A hospital, school or public institution could loan a painting for a few dollars. All of this was to provide employment in a time of crisis and renew American democracy but it raised deep questions about the role of art and who got to own it or see it. For its many critics programmes like Federal One were fostered radicalism and dissent - subverting a nation. But for the many touched by those days it was an unforgettable experiment in art and democracy.
Producer Mark Burman.

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The New Deal's Federal Theater enchanted millions and made powerful enemies of Congress.

Writer Marybeth Hamilton uncovers the power, passion & craziness of the first & only successful attempt to bring government funded theater to the whole nation. In the midst of the Great Depression, Roosevelt's flagship New Deal programme, the W.P.A., took thousands of unemployed artists, writers & performers & put them on the payroll. Art could go to work for Washington & the national good. Democracy & culture would strengthen one another. The Federal Theater Project, under the leadership of Hallie Flanagan, staged the American experience across the nation to some 30 million people. From Federal work camps to parks, remote towns to great cities- now audiences could see anything from vaudeville to Shakespeare, marionettes to Eugene O'Neill for just 25 cents. Unemployed journalists and writers were put to work on Living Newspapers, fusing documentary & drama to stage contemporary issues & create debate among the audience. Orson Welles & John Houseman brilliantly staged an all black version of Macbeth & Marc Blitzstein's agit-opera The Cradle Will Rock. Across the nation It Can't Happen Here, the Sinclair Lewis story of the fascist overthrow of America by an idiot, was staged simultaneously from coast to coast. But the Federal Theater had created powerful enemies in Congress with mounting inquiries into communist subversion & waste that would bring nearly all the New Deal's cultural programmes to an abrupt halt. Marybeth Hamilton speaks to Tim Robbins, Simon Callow & the 103 year old veteran of the Federal stage, Norman Lloyd.
Producer Mark Burman.

The New Deal's Federal Theater enchanted millions and made powerful enemies of Congress.

Writer Marybeth Hamilton uncovers the power, passion and craziness of the first and only successful attempt to bring government funded theater to the whole nation. In the midst of the Great Depression, Roosevelt's flagship New Deal programme, the W.P.A., took thousands of unemployed artists, writers and performers and put them on the payroll. Art could go to work for Washington and the national good. Democracy and culture would strengthen one another. The Federal Theater Project, under the leadership of Hallie Flanagan, staged the American experience across the nation to some 30 million people. From Federal work camps to parks, remote towns to great cities- now audiences could see anything from vaudeville to Shakespeare, marionettes to Eugene O'Neill for just 25 cents. Unemployed journalists and writers were put to work on Living Newspapers, fusing documentary and drama to stage contemporary issues and create debate among the audience. Orson Welles and John Houseman brilliantly staged an all black version of Macbeth and Marc Blitzstein's agit-opera The Cradle Will Rock. Across the nation It Can't Happen Here, the Sinclair Lewis story of the fascist overthrow of America by an idiot, was staged simultaneously from coast to coast. But the Federal Theater had created powerful enemies in Congress with mounting inquiries into communist subversion and waste that would bring nearly all the New Deal's cultural programmes to an abrupt halt. Marybeth Hamilton speaks to Tim Robbins, Simon Callow and the 103 year old veteran of the Federal stage, Norman Lloyd.
Producer Mark Burman.