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The New Deal Gallery at the Genesee Valley Council on the Arts houses over 200 works of art from the Great Depression that were commissioned by President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. We are the world’s only gallery dedicated to WPA easel art.
The WPA was one of the many programs created by the federal government’s New Deal. By allowing artists to continue to practice their craft, not to mention eat, the federal government helped create a community of concerned and committed American artists. Many WPA artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Phillip Gustin, Willem Dekooning and Jacob Lawrence dominated the arts after World War II. They made New York City, and the US, the new center of the art world.
The site of the New Deal Gallery, on Murray Hill, was originally constructed as a tuberculosis sanatorium. Eleanor Roosevelt visited the Murray Hill site for her husband, FDR, while he was the Governor of New York. On April 20th, 1932, FDR officially chose the location for the Mount Morris Tuberculosis Sanatorium. He announced the decision on the radio, praising Mount Morris’ “network of good roads, trolley service to Rochester, beautiful location, and favorable weather conditions”. The complex was the recipient of a collection of 240 easel paintings. It also received eight animal sculptures to adorn the campus grounds. In addition, five murals were allotted to the children’s hospital. The sanatorium opened in 1936 and operated until 1971.
In 1972 Livingston County paid the State of New York $1 to purchase the sanitorium. When the county acquired the sanitorium it also acquired its art collection. Since that time, our building, and most of the buildings on the campus have been Livingston County offices. After 1972 most of the paintings were taken down and stored in a basement. They were rediscovered and displayed at the millennium celebration, then stored until 2008, when the county and Genesee Valley Council on the Arts opened the New Deal Gallery in the historic Building 4. By arrangement with the General Services Administration, and under the auspices of the Livingston County government, these paintings are now properly cared for.
The artwork is showcased in the New Deal Gallery on a rotating basis. Most works require restoration. You can browse the New Deal Virtual Gallery of the entire Livingston County WPA Art Collection, or contribute to restoration efforts through the Paula Henry Restoration Fund. The Arts Council also houses a library of information about the Great Depression, as well as biographical information on the artists in our collection.
Adjacent to the Arts Council and Murray Hill is Letchworth State Park. Much of the work in the park was done by Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. The park contains the Genesee Valley River Gorge and the sites of four CCC camps. The park and the Arts Council, along with the National Warplane Museum in Geneseo, are part of Livingston County’s Greatest Generation Trail.