Historical preservation reveals itself in the New Deal Gallery at Livingston Arts in Mount Morris, N.Y., where art created during and funded by the 1930s Franklin D. Roosevelt administration is showcased.Opened in 2008, the New Deal Gallery houses paintings of the Great Depression that the Roosevelt administration backed to both decrease unemployment and to enrich the well-being of American society. It was during this time that the Livingston Arts building and those surrounding it served as the Mount Morris Tuberculosis Hospital and housed over 230 federally funded paintings. The gallery features large tranquil paintings that presumably brightened the rooms and hallways of the hospital that was home to both patients and physicians. With a focus on nature and still life and an extensive amount of flower vases, one can see that they enhanced the building interiors rather than served as focal points. According to Chris Norton, the nonprofit’s executive director, the New Deal marks the only time in American history that the federal government paid for art to be made. “There are a lot of artists that became famous and turned New York into a center of the art world in [the] ‘40s to ‘50s,” he said. “Before that, America was a backwater of the arts.” Livingston Arts reflects the Roosevelt administration’s mission today through its support for artists, schools and community programs in hopes of enriching the well-being of county residents. Founded first as a council in part by Distinguished Service Professor Emerita of Art Bertha Lederer, the organization now manages three galleries and hosts various events and programming. The community receives the most benefit from its artist grants, according to Liz Simmons, associate director of Livingston Arts. One is the Artists in Education grant that supports artists and organizations to work with public schools in Livingston County in engaging the students in artistic learning experiences. The Community Arts grant supports art programming like exhibitions, demonstrations, festivals and public installations with a result of a “higher sense of community, identity, and positive outlook on the role of art and culture for life in Livingston County,” according to its website.
Aside from its grants, Livingston Arts’ most recent demonstration of the organization’s historical preservation is seen in its Underground Arts center, where a refurbished basement is now a haven for artists and amateurs alike; the studio has a kiln and pottery wheels and is littered with crafty tools and supplies to enhance the potter’s experience. Classes focus on 3-D mediums and include clay, fiber arts and bookbinding “To me that’s really exciting because we talked about making this place a space where artists felt they could come and work,” Norton said. “That basement space gave them a place where they can be messy. I think that space really helps in the sense that it’s harder to do that at home.” Norton said he hopes to rekindle the relationship that was once very strong between the organization and the college. With the studio art major ending in 2014, he noted that opportunities exist for collaboration on the Geneseo campus to “explode the idea of Livingston County as a cultural center.” “It doesn’t matter where you are,” he said. “Everywhere in the planet that has people needs the arts.”