Saturday, November 22, 2008

Can you say WPA?

In his weekly radio/internet address, President-elect Barack Obama vowed to create 2.5 million public works, infrastructure and green energy jobs in his first year in office.

While Franklin Roosevelt's WPA (Works Projects Administration) was instituted late in the economic crisis which became the Great Depression, and hence could not put an end to that slough of despair (it took Pearl Harbor, unfortunately, to accomplish that), it did put millions of Americans to work while building roads, open national parks, create libraries and public buildings, and put hundreds of artists, photographers, writers, historians, musicians and ethnomusicologists to work.

While a lot of economic damage could still be done in the last two months of the disastrous Bush administration, perhaps Obama's early announcements will help forstall a total breakdown of the system (parts of which have irretrievably broken down already), and create a new green energy that can be an engine for economic and environmental progress in the US.

I hope the Obama plan, like the Roosevelt plan, remembers the artists. The achievements of WPA artists is well-documented. Murals, sculptures, important histories, and a vast body of archived folk art resources are all the product of WPA. It would be great that this crisis too fueled an American cultural renaissance.

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