ART/WORK: How the Government-Funded CETA Jobs Program Put Artists to Work

Photo by Sarah Wells (1979) for the CETA CCF Artists Project. © Estate of Sarah Wells 2021


ART/WORK Publication


Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space

[88 Essex St, inside Essex Market, NYC]
On View: December 10, 2021 through March 19, 2022

City Lore Gallery

[56 East 1st St, NYC]
On View: December 10, 2021 through March 31, 2022

Artists Alliance Inc. (AAI), a New York City visual arts non-profit supporting emerging artists and curators, and City Lore, New York City’s center for urban folk culture, are pleased to announce a major exhibition highlighting the history and significance of the federal Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) jobs program (1973-1981), which employed over 10,000 artists and cultural workers across the nation, and 600 in New York City—a scale of artist support not seen since the Works Progress Administration of the 1930s. Yet CETA has been virtually forgotten.

The exhibition, ART/WORK: How the Government-Funded CETA Jobs Program Put Artists to Work, is presented by City Lore and Artists Alliance Inc., as part of a long-term initiative, undertaken in conjunction with the Delaware Art Museum, exploring the impact of CETA on arts workforce development across the United States, and its relevance to recent efforts to include the arts community in the nation’s pandemic recovery. CETA’s legacy serves as a precedent for envisioning how we can create sustained investment in artists today, and for considering models for permanently infusing the creativity and resourcefulness of artists into our workforce.

Opening Friday, December 10 at AAI’s Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space and City Lore Gallery, both on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, ART/WORK spotlights the achievements of CETA-funded artists projects in New York City, which sent over 600 visual artists, poets, dancers, performers, and photographers, among many other specialists, into New York area schools, libraries, museums, nursing homes, prisons, and more. In the process, CETA nurtured a diverse artist workforce, provided art services and engagement to communities, and launched the careers of now-prominent artists and arts administrators, as well as beneficiaries who brought their experience to arts-adjacent fields or transferred it to other sectors. It also helped to nourish the community arts movement in New York and throughout the U.S.

City Lore’s ART/WORK exhibition will feature more than 100 rich and evocative historical photographs and archival documents from the program. Says curator and City Lore co-director Molly Garfinkel, “While the history and impact of CETA funding on artists, communities, and the arts ecology in the United States is woefully under-documented, CETA provides valuable precedents and lessons for the current moment. CETA helped demonstrate that artists and cultural workers deserve to be considered a critical part of the U.S. labor force. Moreover, artists applied to CETA-funded public service employment projects to do something personally and publicly meaningful with their time, skills, and resourcefulness. CETA funds enabled cultural workers to take risks, to grow, and to engage in new forms of collaboration—both with each other and with their communities. It helped many existing cultural organizations to establish a foothold and expand programming and capacity. City Lore is thrilled to collaborate with Artists Alliance Inc. on this timely and exciting exhibition.”

The exhibition will continue at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space, where this seminal but nearly forgotten moment in our cultural history will be explored through the voices, photographs, and archival documents of the artists, administrators, and officials who designed, managed, and participated in the program. Jodi Waynberg, Director of AAI, adds, “We are so looking forward to hosting this collaboration at our Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space. There is hardly a more fitting moment to reflect on the benefits to our communities, individual arts workers, and cultural institutions when the United States invests in its labor force. We are thrilled to be afforded the opportunity to amplify this extraordinary history and reimagine sustained recovery that could extend beyond this moment of insecurity in order to truly rebuild.”

Supporting culture matters, says City Lore’s founding director Steve Zeitlin. “Culture should be supported because it is part of our daily lives and an integral part of civic life. Expression of culture has much to do with how well we understand ourselves and each other, build relationships with and get along with one another. Being able to do this is as relevant now as ever.”

ART/WORK is supported by The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation, and John Kreidler. and presented in partnership with Creatives Rebuild New York.

About Artists Alliance Inc.
Founded in 1999, Artists Alliance Inc. (AAI) is dedicated to launching, strengthening, and advancing the vision of emerging and underrepresented artists & curators through funded residencies, paid exhibition opportunities, and commissioned projects. Rooted in the Lower East Side (LES), a long-standing epicenter for creative experimentation and cultural diversity, AAI cultivates contemporary art practices that challenge the way we experience ourselves and our communities. As a dedicated advocate of sustainability for NY-based artists and the enduring community benefits of free and accessible contemporary art, AAI develops programming within larger institutions that hold vital social and cultural significance on the LES.

About City Lore
Founded in 1986, City Lore is New York City’s center for urban folk culture. With a mission to foster New York City – and America’s – living cultural heritage, City Lore encompasses a Lower East Side gallery space, performances, lectures, the People’s Hall of Fame, a POEMobile that projects poems onto walls and buildings, and programs throughout the five boroughs. We document, present, and advocate for New York City’s grassroots cultures to ensure their living legacy in stories and histories, places and traditions. We work in four cultural domains: urban folklore and history; preservation; arts education; and grassroots poetry traditions. In each, we seek to further cultural equity and model a better world with projects as dynamic and diverse as New York City itself. City Lore is a nonprofit 501(c)3.

Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space is located inside Essex Market, which is fully accessible by ADA standards. The gallery can be accessed from any ground floor entrance. Cuchifritos Gallery welcomes assistance dogs and has wheelchair-accessible restroom facilities on the lower level and 2nd floor, which can be accessed by the east-side elevator. For access inquiries, please contact Artists Alliance at info@artistsallianceinc.org or (2×12) 420-9202.

Artists Alliance Inc.is 501c3 not-for-profit organization located on the Lower East Side of New York City within the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center. Cuchifritos Gallery is supported in part by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Exhibition programming is made possible by public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, and the National Endowment for the Arts. We thank the New York City Economic Development Corporation and individual supporters of Artists Alliance Inc for their continued support. Special thanks go to our team of dedicated volunteers and interns, without whom this program would not be possible.