Final Curtain: The Legacy
Influential far beyond the few years it lasted, the Federal Theatre Project stands as a watershed moment in the history of American culture. Prior to the FTP and its predecessor the CWA, federal funding for fine, literary, or performing arts was nonexistent, with funding coming from private sources. Suddenly, in 1933 the nation saw the entry of the federal government fully and directly into the arts. That the federal government did not merely provide financial support but ran the program directly was a revolutionary shift.
During its brief existence, the FTP managed to generate controversy with its productions aimed at delineating social and economic issues. A series of congressional hearings focused on its programming, costs, and apparent successes and failures of productions, and questioned its imputed communist influence. Although the FTP came to an abrupt end on June 30, 1939, with congressional removal of funding, in subsequent years the federal government played an increasingly vital role in the nation’s cultural life. Over the years, the efforts to support the arts have included the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities (1965–1991) administered by the former Department of Health Education and Welfare, the founding of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965, and indirect support in the form of the national cultural center, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which opened in 1971.
The Federal Theatre Project Collection, in relation to all of the performing arts collections at the Library of Congress, continues to attract some of the greatest interest among scholars, students, and artists. FTP has inspired recent documentary and feature films. Theatrical revivals of numerous FTP productions continue today, while notable works await rediscovery. The Federal Theatre Project remains exemplary of the lasting contribution of the federal government in the cultural life of the nation.
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