Bringing Back the WPA (Because the Government Hasn't) Bringing Back the WPA (Because the Government Hasn't)

Bringing Back the WPA (Because the Government Hasn't)

by Christopher Robbins

April 28, 2010

How we've taken the old Work Projects Administration and made it new again.

And now, we're ready. For the launch, we've secured two offices—one in a rural hamlet, and one in New York City. Our first Work Projects Administration office will open in Wassaic, New York in May of this year.

The people involved in this project have histories in either community development or public art, and we are using those skills to bring communities together in a sort of real-life street theater. John Ewing is a public artist who has worked in the U.S., El Salvador, and Cuba. Carmen Montoya is an artist and health worker with experience here and in Mexico. Finally, I am a public artist who has worked in community development and peace-building throughout the world.

We will run participatory action research workshops with community members to identify needed public works, and then hire people in the neighborhood to complete the projects they choose, all under the auspices of "official" WPA business.

This is not a massive redevelopment scheme. Our goal isn't to build a new bridge or shopping mall; it's to get people involved in small projects in their own neighborhoods. Our goal is to create a functional model and a feeling of partnership with our government—a real example of working together in small but important ways to contribute to the cultural and economic vitality of our local communities.

We want this to be an accessible project, something anyone could do. So, we're keeping our costs down.

For the final leg of this project, we need to raise the funds needed for this project from small donations by American citizens. We're not seeking huge grants from major benefactors, but really want this to be something by and of the people. So, we launched a Kickstarter initiative to raise the $2,000 needed to bring back the WPA. This last bit of cash will help pay for art and construction materials, and pay the WPA wages of local workers in Wassaic, New York and Jamaica, Queens.

Any amount will help: We just want to get as many citizens as possible involved in this pilot, so we can start to open offices around the country. Think of it as a renegade WPA for D.I.Y. recovery.

Christopher Robbins works on the cusp of public art and community development, and has lived and worked in New York, London, Tokyo, West Africa, the Fiji Islands, and former Yugoslavia. After serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin, West Africa, he co-founded the Ghana Think Tank, a global network of think tanks creating strategies to resolve local problems in the "developed" world. It was recently shortlisted for the Frieze Foundation's Cartier Award.

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Bringing Back the WPA (Because the Government Hasn't)