Utah State University Faculty Monographs

The Federal Art Project and the Creation of Middlebrow Culture


The Federal Art Project and the Creation of Middlebrow Culture



This intellectual and cultural history chronicles the processes of compromise and negotiation between high and low art, federal and local interests, and the Progressive Era and New Deal. Grieve examines how intellectual trends in the early twentieth century combined with government forces and structures of the New Deal’s Federal Art Project (FAP) to redefine American taste in the visual arts. Representing more than a response to the emergency of the Great Depression, the Federal Art Project was rooted in Progressive Era cultural theories, the modernist search for a usable past, and developments in the commercial art world in the early decades of the twentieth century. In their desire to create an art for the “common man,” FAP artists and administrators used the power of the federal government to disseminate a specific view of American culture, one that combined ideals of uplift with those of accessibility: a middlebrow visual culture.

Grieve discusses efforts by thinkers and reformers to democratize art amid a blossoming consumer culture after World War I, and then turns her attention to the New Deal. Two programs of the FAP in particular – the Index of American Design and the Community Art Center program – were instrumental in bringing art to the masses. By the end of the 1930s, however, the nationalism and cultural egalitarianism of middlebrow visual art came under attack. But the FAP laid the groundwork for a postwar resurgence of American art, and by the 1960s, the federal government would once again enter the cultural arena.




University of Illinois Press

Publication Date





Art and state, 20th century history, Popular culture, Middle class, United States

Recommended Citation

Grieve, Victoria. The Federal Art Project and the Creation of Middlebrow Culture. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009.


Also available for sale through the publisher: University of Illinois Press.

The Federal Art Project and the Creation of Middlebrow Culture