Artist Hank Willis Thomas’s “Unity” in Brooklyn, New York (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

The City of New York will put some artists to work this summer with a $25 million program inspired by the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration (WPA). Announced yesterday, May 6, the recovery program will pay hundreds of local artists to beautify and activate public spaces across the city with murals, public artworks, performances, and more.

The new program, called City Artist Corps, is expected to create jobs for more than 1,500 artists in NYC, a fraction of more than 56,000 artists living in the city (as of 2015). At a news conference yesterday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio named the depression-era WPA as a direct inspiration for the initiative.

“We’re going to take inspiration from that model and bring it to today,” de Blasio said. “The City Artist Corp is going to employ artists as part of the comeback of New York City.”

New York’s arts sector was hit hardest during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report by the state comptroller in February. The report found that two-thirds of arts, entertainment, and recreation jobs in the city evaporated in 2020. An ever deeper crisis faces immigrant artists in the city, who report diminished livelihood sources with little to no aid from local authorities. 

Gonzalo Casals, the city’s recently appointed Cultural Affairs Commissioner, called the NEW program a “historic investment in local artists.”

“A recovery for all has to include culture, which is such an important part of healthy, vibrant neighborhoods,” the commissioner said in a statement. “Building on efforts to lift up all residents and spur New York’s recovery, the City Artist Corps will bring public spaces to life in all five boroughs and make sure the Summer of New York City is a Summer of Art.”

Hakim Bishara is a Senior Editor at Hyperallergic. He is also a co-director at Soloway Gallery, an artist-run space in Brooklyn. Bishara is a recipient of the 2019 Andy Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital...