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Collections & Critiques

By Jack Wilner

A new art museum, representing a ten million dollar donation by Andrew Mellon, is now nearing completion in Washington. In it will be found many of the greatest art treasures known to man. Not only will the erection of this edifice establish the city of Washington as one of the outstanding art centers of the world, but the classic dignity of the building itself will provide a fitting climax to the efforts exerted by the federal government during the past ten years to rebuild and beautify the entire city. The philanthropic spirit behind this splendid project can inspire nothing but praise; the benefits which will arise from such an institution cannot be overestimated.

Approximately two blocks away from this Greek temple, there is a rather large but aged red brick house. This building contains the Allocations Gallery and the Children's Gallery, both of which fall under the scope of the W.P.A. District Art Unit. Under the guidance of a comparatively small group of artists who are employed by the government for work in this W.P.A. unit, hundreds of children have been given free instruction in painting and design; and what is far more important, these children have been allowed to associate with competent men who are able to instill in young minds a certain amount of aesthetic consciousness, a certain degree of taste and discrimination, qualities which seem to be sadly lacking in a large group of American children whose parents cannot afford to provide channels into which this so-called "unproductive" spirit can be directed.

So far, so good, But there is a well-circulated rumor to the effect that before the present Congress adjourns for the summer, it will withdraw federal funds from the W.P.A. unit, thereby placing the burden of support almost entirely upon the shoulders of the local District government. There are many who believe that such projects as the one now being considered are local affairs and should be continued or discarded according to the limits of the local budget. This notion, however, must remain a point for further discussion. What is more important is the fact that while a ten million dollar building is being erected for the admittedly noble purpose of housing the work of old masters, plans are being made for what will eventually lead to the abolition of a very necessary training ground for children, some of whom, if only given the opportunity, will be looked upon as old masters by future generations.

The new museum is the result of a gift. It is not fair, therefore, to point to it as a flagrant example of misdirected government expenditure. But if the W.P.A. Art Unit does not continue to receive adequate financial support from the federal government so that it can continue the excellent work for which it was originally created, the very fact that a huge museum is being constructed at a tremendous cost just a few blocks away from it, will provide ample justification for a weakened belief in the efficiency and wisdom of a democratic government.

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