New Deal Murals of San Francisco explores the history and legacy of the city’s most fascinating murals from the Depression era.  These paintings were created by the federal government’s various relief programs, such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA), in the 1930s and 1940s. While mapping all of the New Deal murals that still exist in the city, the mobile app focuses on three sites in depth:  “Aspects of Life in California” at Coit Tower, “The History of California” at Rincon Center, and Diego Rivera’s “Pan-American Unity” at City College of San Francisco.  The mobile app provides historical perspective as well as little-known facts about the murals through rich media content, such as video, audio, images and text.

As the nation faced an economic crisis, the New Deal mural art programs were intended not only to put artists to work but to create public art that would instill pride in American history and culture. While many aspects of the New Deal murals reflect this theme, San Francisco artists also used the paintings as social criticism, which, at a time when the country was questioning its proper course, brought into question basic notions of democracy, equality, and freedom of expression.

How these murals were created, who created them, what they expressed, how they were discussed, debated, and at times censored – these form the dramatic stories revealed through interviews, archival photographs, and film footage.  Through the lens of these works of art, we illuminate the historical and social impact of the New Deal mural art in San Francisco and reveal some of the impulses and contradictions of the times. 

Produced by KQED in partnership with the California Historical Society and California’s Living New Deal Project.  Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the KQED Opportunity and Innovation Fund.

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