When the Great Depression was at its worst, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called Birmingham "the worst hit town in the country." However, the 1930s was also a time of great resourcefulness and creativity in Birmingham, as evidenced by New Deal programs celebrating the city's workers in visual art and—perhaps even more importantly—employing them on a number of projects, including the construction of a permanent home for Vulcan.
As Birmingham and the rest of the nation struggle through another life-changing economic crisis, the series organizers for "Collective Perspectives" have focused on how the community survived and thrived during the Great Depression. By examining the era's art and music and revisiting the writing and speeches of progressive leaders and everyday citizens, we may discover lessons that deserve application in the present day.
Thursday, Feb. 4
“Birmingham in Black and White: The Life and Art of Frank Hartley Anderson”
Boston architect Frank Hartley Anderson came to Alabama in 1901, to help plan the town of Corey (now Fairfield). Anderson established himself as a successful residential architect. But when construction projects dried up in the 1930s, Anderson joined the Federal Art Project and went on to create countless images of local life as a printmaker.
Anderson’s prints show an economically diverse group of citizens—workers toiling over laundry and the city’s elite corps of jazz musician performing in the fabled Tuxedo Junction.
This program presents 1930s Birmingham through Anderson’s eyes, in a mini-installation of his works and discussions by Birmingham Museum of Art curator Graham Boettcher.
Thursday, Feb. 11
“Symphonies and Spirituals: William Dawson and the Birmingham Civic Orchestra”
African-American composer and Anniston native William Dawson is known for his stirring arrangements of spirituals and his work directing the Tuskegee Choir. In the 1920s, Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony placed him beside Duke Ellington and William Gran Still as a major musical figure of the Harlem Renaissance.
In the 1930s, the newly-formed Birmingham Civic Orchestra, now the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, championed Dawson’s symphonic music in a series of concerts throughout the state—an unheard of move by most any orchestra, especially one in the segregated South.
This program features acclaimed pianist Anthony Pattin, members of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra, and the G.W. Carver Honor Choir performing Dawson’s classical works and spirituals in an engaging concert of rarely performed works.
Thursday, Feb. 18
“Crossing Lines: A Dramatic Work on the Southern Conference for Human Welfare”
It’s 1938 and people around the country are coming to Birmingham for the inaugural meeting of the Southern Conference for Human Welfare (SCHW). In Crossing Lines, Lee Shackleford’s new play about the SCHW, we meet the fictional character Eunice, who has come to support the cause of opportunity for all Southerners, and to get to know a host of real-life conference participants.
Last year, Vulcan Park and Museum looked at one of the conference’s organizers in the one-woman show Too Many Questions: An Evening with Virginia Durr. This program featuring Crossing Lines reminds us that the city known as the birthplace of civil rights was also the cradle of the progressive movement in the South, a place where socialism and Jim Crow, the Old South and the New Deal, lived side by side.
Thursday, Feb. 25
“Your Tax Dollars at Work: Documenting Federal Programs in the Magic City”
At the Depression’s lowest point, only 8,000 of Birmingham’s 108,000 iron industry workers had full-time employment. When help came through FDR’s New Deal, Birmingham enthusiastically embraced the opportunities the federal relief agencies presented. During the 1930s, these “alphabet agencies” erected Vulcan’s pedestal and park, built schools, housing and state parks, and fixed the city’s crumbling infrastructure. Documenting the before and after of Birmingham’s New Deal was a corps of writers and documentary photographers that included Walker Evans.
Today, UAB’s Ethnographic Film Program continues the tradition of documenting the impact of federal programs upon local communities. This program features short films by UAB students that explore the legacy of United States Housing Authority projects such as Elyton Village, Smithfield Court and Cahaba Village, and the lasting effects of the New Deal art and building initiatives on traditionally African-American communities.
"Collective Perspectives 2010" runs every Thursday in February (4, 11, 18, 25). All programs begin at 5:30 p.m. Admission costs $10 per program or $30 for the complete series; the cost covers light refreshments following the program, plus admission to the Vulcan museum and the observation balcony. Cash bar. For more information, call (205) 933-1409 or go to www.visitvulcan.com.
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