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Rediscovering the New Deal November 11, 2009

Posted by cbuchanan in Uncategorized.
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In the Great Depression, Birmingham and Jefferson County were dirt poor. Which made them prime targets for the Works Progress Administration (WPA), part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal initiatives to put people back to work and energize the economy. Many of the projects the WPA built here still exist in some form today, including major sections of Trussville, UAB Hospital, and our state parks to our iconic landmark, Vulcan Park.

The Birmingham Public Library deserves major kudos for creating a fascinating new Web site cataloging WPA projects in Birmingham and Jefferson County. Their list isn’t complete, but it mirrors a new Birmingham Historical Society photo exhibit–“Digging out of the Depression: Federal Programs at Work”–on display in the central library’s gallery through Dec. 31. In many cases, the site includes modern photos with historical images to show how the buildings and landscapes have evolved over the years.

I am fascinated by the WPA–especially by how a government stimulus program was able to encourage an explosion of surprisingly good art and architecture, which continue to influence the fields of design, communication, and urban planning, not to mention communities across the country. When you go to that site, be sure to click “Murals” in the sidebar to see some of the beautiful artworks, created by local artists, that still decorate some schools and post offices. (On a related note, check out this al.com story on the status of the restoration of the big WPA mural at Woodlawn High School. There’s also a blog and Facebook group working to raise support to finish the restoration project.)

And if that’s not enough WPA for you, here’s a reminder about “Signs for Our Time,” a Naked Art show next June that is encouraging artists and designers to put a modern spin on WPA posters. For details on that, visit this page on Naked Art’s Web site and scroll down a bit.

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