"[Norwalk, CT houses] the Nation's largest collection of WPA murals."
-Karel Yasko, Fine Arts Counselor with the Government Services Administration
Works Progress Administration
The murals and panels that were created over 60 years ago for Norwalk High School and other public buildings in Norwalk, comprise one of the largest and most important collections of Depression-era art in America today, as well as providing a unique window to the past.
These WPA era murals are part of our American heritage. They have been restored for all to enjoy through the generosity of the community.
A Legacy in Norwalk of Federal Art
The Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration was established by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in mid-1935. The nation was in an economic depression; millions were unemployed. The WPA's mission was to take 3.5 million people off relief and put them to work. Within a year, some 5,000 artists were busy on WPA. The Federal Art Project was not intended to create great and lasting art; that was a happy by product.
During the eight year life of the project, the government's New Deal for artists never employed more than 20 percent of the nation's artists and art teachers. But these paid-by-the-hour craftspersons produced an astonishing array of work: 108,099 canvasses, some quarter-million prints of over 11,000 original designs, and 17,844 pieces of sculpture.
Of all the WPA art projects, murals constituted the smallest part of the artistic effort. Just 2,566 murals were painted for public buildings.
Sadly, less than 25 years after the WPA era, most of the federal art had been lost or destoyed. Countless murals were painted over, while the largely uncatalogued easel paintings disappeared in private offices, moldered in storerooms or were used to fuel incinerators.
Fortunately, in Norwalk, thanks to the foresight of various city agencies including the Historical Commission-aided by a grant from the federal General Services Administration-the community's long neglected WPA murals were rescued before they had deteriorated too greatly to permit restoration.
These murals are currently on view at the following locations:
- Norwalk Transit District
- Norwalk City Hall
- Norwalk Community College
- Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk
- Norwalk Public Library
Norwalk Transit District and WPA Murals
Why is a public transportation provider involved with WPA (Works Progress Administration) art? And what does it have to do with public transportation?
The answers go to the heart of Norwalk Transit's vision of itself as a member of the community. The agency has always held that the District is an active member of the community, working in all ways that are appropriate, to support and enrich the lives of its residents. Toward that end we have often served as a conduit for funding of transit related projects outside the scope of our responsibilities as providers of public transportation.
When the agency learned that as part of the design of a new vehicle storage, maintenance, and administration facility, federal funds could be used for public art. We brokered an agreement with the City of Norwalk to restory the four remaining WPA murals in its collection in exchange for the ability to hang five murals in the new facility. In addition, the agency agreed to photographically document the City's entire collection and to make it available on our website.
With the opening of the new building in 2001, the transit district published a book of the City's WPA mural collection. The book is available for purcahse at the Norwalk Transit District Administrative Office.