Interactive Exhibit from the American Art Museum

Ross Dickinson, Valley Farms, 1934,  Smithsonian American Art Museum
Wed 15 2009

Earlier in April, we highlighted a few resources for teaching about the New Deal, but here's one addition well worth checking out.

An exhibition, 1934: A New Deal for Artists, is on view at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Renwick Gallery until January 2010, and a multifaceted, online educational website complements this display.

It was the first time the United States government provided direct support to artists.

Curator Elizabeth Broun explains The Public Works of Art Project of the New Deal. "Artists were encouraged to portray 'the American Scene.' With this minimal guidance, they turned to local and regional subjects and created a picture of the country striving to survive through hard work and true grit. They were inspired by the idea that their art would be displayed in public spaces for broad audiences." It was the first time the United States government provided direct support to artists.

The website encourages visitor immersion in the works of art—regional, recognizable subjects—ranging from portraits to cityscapes and images of city life to landscapes and depictions of rural life. The 1934 artists reminded the public of quintessential American values such as hard work, community, and optimism.

An Exhibition Slide Show is open to public comments and shared stories.

A flash presentation takes visitors into a virtual movie theater where virtual curators talk about picturing the 1930s, provide historical context, explanations of individual paintings, and the chance to create movies with personal collections. Movies are created using Digital Storyteller created by (Be forewarned: navigation is a little complex in this component, but well-worth the exploratory effort. It's a good idea to visit How is This Site Organized.)

Mapping 1934 lets visitors see where the exhibition's artworks were painted.

The museum has also created a 1934 Flickr group to share the nearly 400 related artworks and objects from its collection. New images are added each week both by the museum and members of the public who choose to join the group. Comments, stories, and new images are invited and welcome.

About the Author

Lee Ann Ghajar is a digital history associate in Public Projects at CHNM and a PhD candidate in American history at George Mason University.