Ben Shahn


As Germany's dictator in the 1930's, Adolf Hitler recognized the power of the arts and the artist to further the Nazi Socialist Party agenda. He banned the books, the music and the art that criticized his war effort and promoted those that favored the stereotypes of the Aryan race and the Final Solution which led to the Holocaust. That reign of censorship and terror was unprecedented in history and will impact the world for generations to come. Hitler's taste in appreciating and collecting art was limited to the works of the German Masters. He made himself the final critic.

As the leader of democracy in the United States, President Franklin Roosevelt recognized the importance of supporting the arts in a democracy. He initiated the WPA Projects, which helped artists, many of them immigrants and exiles struggling during the Depression. Although the artists were employed by public funds for public works, they were allowed a fair amount of artistic freedom in their work in architecture, painting, literature, theater, music and sculpture. Many of the post offices and other government buildings in our cities were constructed during this time. They were enhanced by the murals and sculpture created by these artists. The National Endowment for the Arts continues to support artists today through grants and programs.

In response to Nazi atrocities before and during World War II, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in December of 1948. It is a statement of fundamental human rights principles, which include freedom of thought, conscience and religion in Article 18 and the right to freedom of opinion and expression in Article 19.