Friday, December 26, 2008

That Sounds Like a Fine Idea

Over the past year or so, I've been reading about the Works Progress Administration, you know, the WPA, which was a government-sponsored program during the Great Depression that put millions of people to work. Not knowing too much about it, I began with some general overviews of the entire program and then I began to dive into specific information about the Federal Writers Project which, as you might guess, employed writers (including such greats as Saul Bellow, Zora Neal Hurston, and Richard Wright).

The Federal Writers Project published guides to every state and a guide to New York City (which was so much larger than other cities, it was treated as its own "state" bureaucratically). I came upon the New York City guide quite a few years ago at the Strand. It's fantastic. Not only is it a time capsule of Depression-era New York City, but it's also exceptionally well-written and thorough.

The WPA's Kansas Guidebook is no less impressive. There's topographical information about my home state I never knew (why, for example, corn is grown in the east and wheat is grown in the west), evolutionary information about why it looks so flat but is actually a ramp heading upwards toward the Rocky Mountains in Colorado, and more. Like the New York City guide, it too is well-written and thorough.

There was much more to the Federal Writers Project than just the guidebooks (including oral history interviews with former slaves), but even at the time, the Project was full of controversy because so many writers, particularly the poor ones, had left-wing tendencies and frequent membership to the Communist Party.

The Writers Project was part of a quartet of arts-related projects that also included Federal Projects for music, theater, and fine art. You know, screw the dancers (actually, they were folded into the Federal Theater Project).

The Arts Projects employed a lot of artists and got them off public assistance. That seems pretty damned worthy to me.

So during this time of governmental transition, while Please-Be-President-Sooner Barack Obama puts together a stimulus package for green jobs, infrastructure improvements, and more, it's also an opportune time to present the idea of an Arts Stimulus Plan. Out of work, creative, white collar types need some economic stimulus too.

Fortunately, someone's on it. A good friend of mine is very active in that arena where the arts and politics collide, helping to advocate for health care for artists and more, and she's part of the group responsible for the petition for an Arts Stimulus Package.

They've got Michigan Representative John Conyers' ear, and he plans on putting this on President Obama's desk when he takes office. So follow that link above and sign the petition.

Let's get some out-of-work artists (is there any other kind? HAHAHAHA!) employed doing some art.

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