PWAP was part of the Civil Works Administration (CWA), a federal work relief program that provided the unemployed with public service jobs during1933 and 1934. PWAP employed artists to create works to embellish public buildings such as schools and libraries. The subject matter for these works was most often chosen to instill pride in American culture and to illuminate American history. This short lived program led to the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration (FAP/WPA) beginning on May 6, 1935.
When the CWA first began it was Edward Bruce who went to then President Franklin Roosevelt and suggested the idea that some of the funds be allocated to the arts. Mr. Bruce himself was an artist and in turn served as secretary on a committee for fine arts. After this first committee met on the matter it was decided that federal buildings and any federally funded buildings would be enhanced by CWA artists. When the program began the artwork was to consist of easel paintings, statues, friezes, memorials, tablets, prints, drinking fountains, and even designs for linoleum.
Many art historians believed the bureaucracy that artists contended with during the production of a given artwork limited their artistic style and media. The artworks commissioned were predominantly painting and relief in a representational style. New Haven was also found to have been limited to such styles during this time period as well. Not all the politicians involved were themselves trained in the arts. The hierarchy of patrons and governing agencies dictated the artwork theme and style.
In contrast other historians believe without the PWAP a generation of American artists would have been lost in the depression.
New Haven had a unique advantage during the PWAP and FAP programs, due to its relationship with Yale University. While the program was run jointly by federal and state legislation, the directors of these programs in New Haven were Theodore Sizer of the Yale University Art Gallery until 1934 and then by Wayland W. Williams. There were 57 registered artists in the New Haven program, most of whom were New Haven area residents, and Yale Art School graduates. Artists’ salaries were paid by PWAP grants, and typically the money for supplies was solicited by the sponsor. When works were proposed, they went before a review board comprised of city officials, the sponsor and art committee members who chose the artists based on submitted sketches.
This format and legislation opened the door for the current Percent for Art legislation.