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September 25, 2010, 2:00 PM

From the WPA to the NEA: Arts Funding Then and Now

Participants: Morris Dickstein (moderator), Rocco Landesman, Kate D. Levin, Susan Quinn, Leslie G. Schultz

The WPA, one of the central programs of Roosevelt's New Deal, was pivotal in providing a template for government subsidy of arts projects, producing one of the great periods of creative expression in the history of American society. Playwrights like Arthur Miller and Elmer Rice flourished under the WPA's Federal Theater Project, directed by Hallie Flanagan. Federally funded projects sowed the seeds for America's ascendency as the center of modern art, particularly with the emergence of abstract expressionism in the late '40s and '50s. The WPA and the New Deal fostered a renaissance that affected the very fabric of American society, instilling a confidence that helped lead the country back to prosperity. This panel will look at how and why the WPA stimulated creative growth during a crucial period in American history, and examine the ways in which government subsidy of the arts can foster a sense of social identity.

Morris Dickstein is the author of Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression, winner of the 2010 Ambassador Book Award in American Studies. He is Distinguished Professor of English and Theatre at CUNY Graduate Center and the author of Gates of Eden and Leopards in the Temple, among other works.

Rocco Landesman is the tenth chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Prior to joining the NEA, he was a Broadway theater producer. After receiving a doctorate in Dramatic Literature at the Yale School of Drama, he served there for four years as an assistant professor. He ran a private investment fund until his appointment in 1987 as president of Jujamcyn, a company that owns and operates five Broadway theaters. Landesman has produced several Tony award-winning Broadway hits, most notably Big River, Angels in America, and The Producers. He has been active on numerous boards, including the Municipal Arts Society, the Times Square Alliance, The Actor's Fund, and the Educational Foundation of America. Landesman has spoken at forums and written numerous articles on the debate surrounding arts policy.

Kate D. Levin is the commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. In this role, she directs cultural policy for New York City, supporting and strengthening nonprofit cultural organizations throughout the five boroughs through public funding, technical assistance, and advocacy. Prior to her appointment, Levin taught English and theater at the City College of New York/CUNY and was associate director of the Simon H. Rifkind Center for Humanities and the Arts at CCNY. Levin has worked at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, as a consultant to several New York City cultural organizations, and served in the Koch administration.

Susan Quinn is the author of A Mind of Her Own: The Life of Karen Horney; Marie Curie: A Life; Human Trials: Scientists, Investors and Patients in the Quest for a Cure; and Furious Improvisation: How the WPA and a Cast of Thousands Made High Art Out of Desperate Times. Quinn received the Globe Winship award for A Mind of Her Own, and was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and Rockefeller residency to work on her biography of Marie Curie, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, shortlisted for the Fawcett Book Prize in England, and won the Grand prix des Lectrices d'Elle in France. Quinn has been a staff writer at Boston Magazine, where she won the Penney-Missouri Magazine Award for investigative journalism, and has contributed to The Atlantic and New York Times Magazine, among other publications. She is currently at work on a book about the friendship of Harry Hopkins and FDR.

Leslie G. Schultz is the Executive Director of BRIC Arts | Media | Bklyn, a non-profit cultural institution dedicated to supporting the creative process and presenting innovative and accessible contemporary art, performing arts, and community media programming that reflects the diverse communities of Brooklyn. Under her leadership, BRIC has rebranded, restructured, expanded its programming, developed and implemented a new strategic plan for institutional growth, and secured public and private support for the creation of BRIC Arts | Media House, a multidisciplinary arts and media center designed by award-winning Leeser Architecture that will double the size of BRIC's current facilities. Prior to BRIC, Leslie was a partner at the law firm of Manatt Phelps & Phillips and its predecessor firm, focusing on capital projects for a range of non-profits and on non-profit governance and corporate affairs.

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council.


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