CETA Artists Projects • New York City 1978-80
More than 500 artists - visual, literary and performing - were employed in New York City through the Comprehensive
Employment and Training Act (CETA). The Cultural Council Foundation (CCF) oversaw the largest project, with
300 artists; the other 200 artists were employed in four concurrent projects administered by Hospital Audiences,
La Mama ETC, American Jewish Congress and Theater for the Forgotten.
Nationally, more than 10,000 artists were employed, in cities such as San Francisco and Chicago and in smaller towns
as well. Collectively, CETA - through its Title VI program - funded the largest federal arts employment effort since
the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of 1933-42.
The majority of artists in New York's CCF project reported directly to CCF but others reported to one of seven
subcontractors: The Association of American Dance Companies coordinated dancers; Jazzmobile and the
Brooklyn Philharmonia coordinated musicians; the Association of Hispanic Arts coordinated a multi-disciplinary
group of Hispanic artists; the Black Theater Alliance created a dedicated theatrical company; the Foundation for
Independent Video and Film coordinated film makers/video artists, and the Foundation for the Community of
Artists (publishers of the Artworkers News) oversaw a seven-member documentation team made up of
photographers, writers and an archivist.
The majority of CCF artists were assigned directly to a community organization. Others worked in project teams (such
as FIVF's video crews) or performing companies (such as the Jazzmobile CETA Big Band). Some were commissioned
to do murals and other public works. A group of writers and poets was asembled into the "Words to Go" troupe.
"Words to Go" mobile troupe of poets and authors (photo: Marbeth)
The federal CETA program, originally created in 1974, had expanded rapidly in the face of stubborn unemployment
in the U.S. Following the election of Jimmy Carter in 1976, it reached a peak budget of $12 billion. It also became
more broad-based and, with the addition of its "Title VI"category (designed for "cyclically unemployed" professionals),
became a potential vehicle for the employment of accomplished artists. In late 1977, over 4000 artists applied for the
300 positions in the CCF project, all of them meeting stringent requirements for both professional achievement and
continued unemployment. Those who were hired would be given a salary of $10,000 per year, with benefits (far more
than could be earned in the typical day job at that time). It was expected that they would work in community and project
assignments four days per week and on their own self-initiated projects one day per week. Two of the artists hired,
Joseph Delaney and Herman Cherry, had worked in the WPA arts projects in the 1930s.
The contract given to CCF by the City of New York required that its artists would engage in: classes, workshops
and master classes, lectures and demonstrations, consultancies, design services, literary services, theater services,
performances, creation of new works (such as murals, dances, plays), residencies and exhibitions. The number of
each was exactly specified. The community organizations who requested one or more CETA artists included schools,
cultural centers and museums, community centers, senior centers, civic and historical associations, city and borough
agencies, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and PATH. After its first year, the CCF project had accomplished
more than double its contracted expectations. When it was reauthorized for a second year, the number of artist lines
in the project was raised from 300 to 325.
Forty years later, few CETA public art projects remain visible. Among these are two ceramic murals in the Clark
Street subway station in Brooklyn (designed by Johan Selenraad and Alan Samalin and realized in ceramic by
Joe Stallone). Four successful and popular murals installed in the PATH station of the World Trade Center were
lost in the September 11, 2001 attack. Historical materials from and about the project are housed at the
Archives of the City of New York.
Cynthia Mailman painting a mural for installation at the PATH
Among those employed in the 1978-80 CCF project, many went on to very successful artistic careers, including
sculptors Ursula Von Rydingsvaard, James Biederman and Christy Rupp; painters Willie Birch and Hunt Slonem;
photographer Dawoud Bey; videographer Marc Levin; poets Pedro Pietri and Bob Holman; dancers Vic Stornant
and Martha Bowers. Some of the project staff also went on to successful careers including project direct Rochelle
Slovin, who became the founding director of the Astoria-based Museum of the Moving Image; projects coordinator
Liz Thompson went on to direct the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival and then the Lower Manhattan Cultural Center;
theater artists coordinator Blondell Cummings achieved considerable fame as a dancer/choreographer, and visual
artists coordinator Suzanne Randolph became a well recognized gallerist and arts consultant.
Because both CETA funding at the federal level and continuation at the city level were political issues,
CETA artists several times demonstrated publicly in defense of the project. Nonetheless, by the
beginning of 1980, CETA funding was disappearing and the CCF Artists Project was forced to close.
As one of its last acts, it produced a book presenting the history and accomplishments of the project,
Artists Project: on the documentation and utilization of largely untapped resources.
CCF CETA Artists - Full List
The CETA Documentation Unit, under the auspices of the Foundation for the Community of Artists, had a
coordinator/archivist: Ellin Burke; three writers: Jacqueline Austin, Nancy Stevens, and Judd Tully, and
three photographers: George Malave, Blaise Tobia and Sarah Wells.
There were also many photographers among the CCF artists. Examples of their work are at the link below.
CCF CETA Documentation Unit: additional photographs
CETA Artist-Photographers: part 1 (under construction)