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New Exhibit at Roosevelt House on Enduring Impact of The New Deal on NYC

Beginning May 11, 2017, the Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute at Hunter College presents a three-month-long exhibition celebrating—and, for the first time, chronicling—the vast range of public projects funded by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s administration over its first 10 years. The New Deal in New York City, 1933-1943: Posters, Murals, Maps, and Photographs, running through August 19, occupies the very home where FDR and his Brain Trust actually planned the outlines of the New Deal during the presidential transition of 1932-33. The exhibition is made possible by a generous grant from the Stepanski Family Charitable Trust.

The exhibit traces the evolution and local impact of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs.  When he took office in March 1933, one in four Americans was unemployed and millions were destitute. At his inauguration he declared:  “Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.” New York City—the largest American city with almost seven million people—was the single greatest recipient of New Deal public works in the country. Its leaders organized quickly to apply for funds for such monumental endeavors as the Triborough Bridge, La Guardia Airport, the Lincoln Tunnel, the East River (FDR) Drive, and the first public housing projects.

From brick-and-mortar jobs to positions in the theater, arts, or education, the New Deal employed thousands of people, transformed the city, and boosted morale.  Hundreds of surviving New Deal projects have been identified on a new map just published by the Living New Deal project, now featured in New York for the first time. The exhibition’s opening night, featured a panel of New Deal experts, including the dean of FDR scholars, William Leuchtenberg, and moderated by Hunter College professor of urban planning Owen Gutfreund.

"How appropriate that Roosevelt House, the very site where Franklin D. Roosevelt and his Brain Trust conceived so much of the New Deal after the election of 1932, now serves as a venue to celebrate its impact on his beloved New York,” said President Jennifer J. Raab. “FDR made sure his plans for national recovery embraced art, architecture, public works, and culture--from Post Office murals to the Triborough Bridge to neighborhood swimming pools to the north building at our own Hunter College. For the first time, the enduring impact of this wave of creativity—its transformative influence on society, not to mention its extraordinary impact on economic recovery—have been quantified and recorded. It is a privilege to present this glorious accounting to students, faculty, and visitors at the Roosevelt family home that incubated so much of this innovative outpouring of creativity."
Added Harold Holzer, the Jonathan Fanton Director of Roosevelt House: "The Works Progress Administration (WPA) inspired what amounts to an urban gallery of artistic innovation. In bringing together a sampling of posters, paintings, prints, photographs, and publications, Roosevelt House will remind visitors that economic revitalization can be accomplished hand in hand with transformative creativity--a model for putting people back to work and improving the cityscape in the bargain."

Visitors should come away from the exhibit with a new or renewed appreciation of the New Deal era, and the extraordinary opportunities it offered Americans to maintain their dignity through employment, and have access to everything from art exhibits to home health care provided by public funding.

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