Section of Painting and Sculpture - The Art

The Art

Unlike the other New Deal art programs, the Section awarded commissions through competitions and paid artists a lump sum for their work. Competitions were open to all artists, regardless of economic status, and artists' proposals were reviewed without identifying the name of the artist who had made the submission.

The Section sought entries that reflected local interests and events, and the Section encouraged the artists to think of the communities, not the Section, as the artists' "patron." Indeed, artists awarded commissions were encouraged to visit the community to ensure that their murals reflected the community. Although many of the artists did not make such visits, it was common for artists to correspond with the town (as well as the Post Office Department and the Section). Some local communities rejected the approved designs, and the artists would work to respond to these concerns and save their commissions.

The program also encouraged artists to reflect the building’s function. For example, the Ariel Rios Building, which was constructed in the early 1930s as the headquarters for the U.S. Post Office Department and which was one of the first buildings to receive works of art under this program, contains 25 murals created with support from the Section intended to depict the history of mail delivery and the settlement of the American West. (These murals have been the subject of controversy, most recently when visitors and federal employees at the Ariel Rios Federal Building expressed complained that six of these murals include offensive stereotypes of Native Americans.)

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