Check out KQED’s new app that allows you to learn about and explore San Francisco’s New Deal-Era murals on location at Coit Tower, Rincon Annex, and SF City College. Diego Rivera and Anton Refregier were two of the most prolific muralists in San Francisco at the time, and they worked with a legion of others to create large-scale frescoes in San Francisco. Visit the mural sites with your mobile device in hand to learn about the history of the murals, and play interactive treasure hunt games that focus on the murals’ fine details.
The Works Progress Administration was part of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, a series of initiatives launched between 1933 and 1938, intended to aid American economic revival during the Great Depression. Originally called the Civil Works Administration, the program was originally focused on short-term recovery. The WPA functioned alongside the Public Works Administration, which was aimed at major federal building projects. Roosevelt and WPA administrator Harry Hopkins saw the project as more than simply economic relief, but as a means to boost morale nationally. Rather than distributing money to those in need, Roosevelt sought to create jobs that would result in projects that would benefit the country as a whole. He regarded artists of all fields as workers too, and employed them in the service of creating works designed to instill pride in national and local history. The hope was that art would no longer be a rarified commodity, but rather would belong to everyone. San Francisco has more WPA funded projects than any other city in America, with the exception of New York. San Francisco also has an impressive series of WPA murals, including the first WPA project, and the last.
Studying the New Deal era is part of the 11th grade US History standards about “continuity and change in the twentieth century,” and exploring the rich history of murals in San Francisco is a valuable way to integrate learning about national history with local, historical art projects. Dive deeper into mural art in San Francisco by viewing our interview with contemporary muralists Mona Caron and Sirron Norris, who describe their work and how they relate to historical muralists like Rivera and Refregier.
Diver deeper into SF Mural history on the Let’s Get Lost Web site, featuring many educational resources including a slideshow of images from the World’s Fair on Treasure Island in 1939-40 where Rivera’s mural, Pan American Unity, was first unveiled, along with primary source documents from the New Deal Era and information about other New Deal-era mural locations in San Francisco including school sites like Washington and Mission High Schools, Roosevelt Middle School, and John Muir Elementary. Whether you explore San Francisco’s mural history on site with the Let’s Get Lost app, or in class using the Let’s Get Lost web site and Educator Guide, there are plenty of ways to engage students in learning about San Francisco’s rich art history.