Today, as a part of my job, I was lucky enough to read and re-read documents about the New Deal, a group of programs put into effect by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the depths of the Great Depression.
William Gropper - Construction of a Dam 1939
In 1933, years after the stock market crash, one in four Americans was out of work. You can find out more on this wonderful website, the Living New Deal. The New Deal programs put many of those Americans to work building or rebuilding our infrastructure. Roads, bridges, hospitals, city halls, highways. You can look at the breadth and, yes, the majesty of the New Deal projects on this map. It looks like the United States has a glorious case of the measles.
The New Deal also acknowledged that people who make art--writers, artists, playwrights, filmmakers--are also workers. They, too, were given jobs to do, put on salaries, put to work. Many of their works, especially murals in public buildings--celebrated the same huge projects that were being built all around them.
And the country recovered.
It's hard to imagine this happening today--even as we deal with the crumbling physical infrastructure of the United States, and a growing gap between the rich and poor. Even more, the idea that artists are workers, too, responsible for the spiritual infrastructure of a country.
Stopped by a local Hell's Kitchen joint to get batteries put in a couple of watches I own, including a bright pink slappy bracelet watch which, to be honest, was a steal--and I never wear it. The woman next to me watched me fiddle with my mobile phone. "How long did it take you to learn how to do that?" she asked.
She was turning 74 at the end of the week. We had a longer discussion about mobile phones, and I suggested that she might want to get some kind of mobile to stay in touch with her family. "I'm the last," she said. Not sadly. Just: facts. It turned out that /her/ watch needed some major repairs, and that she would be without her watch for at least the next few hours. I offered the pink watch. She said she would return it. I put it on her wrist. "I can really read the numbers!" she said. "Please, keep it," I said. She smiled. "Happy birthday to me!"