Street Scene

CETA Murals, New Haven, and the Late 1970s

Images of New Haven street scenes sourced from Andy Blair, who documented New Haven between 1971-1974. They can be accessed in full here.
Images of murals and CETA participants provided by Ruth Resnick (Johnson).

Introduction: The Significance of CETA

“Street Scene: CETA Murals, New Haven, and the Late 1970s” features a content-rich virtual dive into the colorful photographic imagery of the murals, the artists and participants, and scenes of New Haven in the 1970s, when the CETA program was in play. 

Virginia Maksymowicz, a former CETA artist and co-coordinator of the CETA Arts Legacy Project, has written, 

“The Works Progress Administration and its employment of artists during the 1930s is often cited as the one and only time the federal government employed artists en masse. This notion couldn’t be further from the truth. From 1974 to 1982, federal funds provided 20,000 arts sector jobs under the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA). 

Like the WPA, CETA funding for the arts helped lay a foundation for the future careers of individual artists. It connected artists to communities and to each other. Some found continued employment with their project sponsors while others moved into arts-related jobs. Some became professors, museum administrators, arts writers and therapists. Still others went on to artworld success such as Ursula von Rydingsvard, Judy Baca, Dawoud Bey, Suzanne Lacy, Fred Wilson and Senga Nengudi.  It needs to be studied now . . . while the primary sources are still alive! 

Public artworks were one of the many aspects of how CETA funded artists interacting with the community and New Haven is a shining example. Even the artists working in service-focused programs were ‘public artists,’ as they brought art into the public sphere through teaching, exhibitions, performances, etc.” 

The virtual exhibition, built with content researched and organized by Laura A. Macaluso, Ph.D. and the Public Art Archive’s Lori Goldstein and Alison Verplaetse, traces the beginnings of the program sourced by the federal government, and how the program took shape in New Haven. 

The success of the CETA program in New Haven was due in large part to mayor Frank Logue who valued the arts, culture, and historic preservation, and to the socially-minded artists of the Elm City, many of whom became mural project leaders working with different neighborhoods and communities. From this special virtual exhibition, viewers will better understand the aspirational ideas behind the CETA mural program to strengthen and uplift New Haven’s community of diverse people.

The last remaining examples of CETA murals were erased from the New Haven landscape during demolition and reconstruction projects in the past ten yearsIn an era of renewed work for social justice and equity in the arts, this virtual exhibit comes at an opportune moment to celebrate this ground-breaking work, and to support the role of public art making in New Haven, Connecticut, past, present, and future.

CETA = Comprehensive Employment and Training Act

Against the backdrop of the first wave of large-scale (and expensive) contemporary works of art placed in public plazas and governmental buildings across the United States in the late 1960s and 1970s, the CETA program provided funding for a different use of public art in cities—community mural-making. The Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (CETA) began under the Nixon administration in 1973 and continued, in various revised forms through the Carter administration, until 1982. CETA was designed as a block grant program whereby under the Title VI mandate, the federal government would provide funds to municipalities who would then decide how best to train and provide jobs for its underemployed and unemployed residents, which would, in turn, support new (and needed) community services.

Called the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act (or CETA, for short), federal funds were channeled to local governments who decided how best to design programs intended to train people for jobs. That New Haven used some of their funding to create jobs for emerging local artists and help neighborhoods at the same time says much about the leadership of Frank Logue (1924-2010), a mayor known for his commitment to the arts, culture, and historic preservation, and to the long history in New Haven of using public art in the form of murals to shape civic identity and sense of place.

Background: CETA in New Haven

A close look at CETA reveals an impactful community program which took shape in New Haven due to a productive partnership between Mayor Frank Logue, the many socially-minded artists of the Elm City, and the willingness of the participants to “bring art back to the people.”

Although managed by City Hall, the CETA mural program was decentralized, operating in many of New Haven’s 17 distinct neighborhoods. This made the program very different from most of the previous public art-making in the Elm City, which was focused on downtown. Further, the CETA community mural program was the first time that people of color and different ethnicities were both involved with making—and the subject of—public art in New Haven. Many of the emerging artists employed in the CETA program as mural project leaders collaborated with different communities across the city, becoming professional artists, community activists, educators, and civic leaders. Although the CETA murals are now gone, the program gave a professional start to many New Haven based artists and created imagery that expanded the placement and content of the city’s public artwork.

Mayor Frank Logue

For more on portrait artist Rudolph Zallinger and his iconic mural, “Age of Reptiles” at the Peabody Museum of Natural History, see click here.

“In a city which ignores the arts, a city which is destitute of art, the quality of life suffers. In fostering the arts, a city government may be playing its most meaningful role.”
– Frank Logue,
Mayor of New Haven, 1976-1979

CETA New Haven Research

The research on the CETA community mural program in New Haven first appeared in the dissertation and then print publication, The Public Artscape of New Haven: Themes in the Creation of a City Image (2018), by Laura A. Macaluso, which took a holistic view of the different ways the Elm City has engaged with public art over the course of (almost) 200 years. Among many years of public art-making by city government, public and private universities, and not-for-profit organizations, the CETA program is a stand-out, especially for the city of New Haven, CT.

The research on CETA New Haven murals was built out of the archival materials kept by Ruth Resnick Johnson. As a community-minded artist, Johnson served as a “memory keeper” of the kinds of materials often not collected by institutions. Most of this would be lost if not for her effort, not only to keep, but to share her CETA history.

CETA New Haven People

Overseen by Thomas S. Corso, the CETA Manpower Administrator in City Hall, New Haven put much of its CETA funding into initiatives such as the Summer Youth Employment Program providing youth with training and employment during the summer, while beautifying the city with murals and other projects including community gardens.  Young local artists, including Sosivu Caldwell, Elizabeth Celotto, Maishe Dickman, Ida Gallagher, Madeline Grant, Terry Lennox, Ruth Resnick, David Rodriguez and Peter Siegel among others became supervisors who worked with youth crews in different neighborhoods around New Haven, including the Hill, Fair Haven, Dixwell, West Rock, and Newhallville, creating more than 15 murals. So much of the success of CETA in New Haven is thanks to Mayor Frank Logue. Without the support of stakeholders and city officials that believed in the power of the arts, none of this would have been possible.

CETA New Haven Themes

Common themes, such as “love, peace, and togetherness,” dominate the CETA murals which embraced the psychedelic colors and styles of the era, often integrating contemporary images of the neighborhood with music and Americana during the Bicentennial years. Although New Haven’s CETA program was not as large as programs in other cities (such as Minneapolis, which completed more than 60 works of public art), the Elm City was “muralized” in a way it had not been since the WPA more than thirty years earlier. Some of these new community-made, and community-representative works of public art lasted until well beyond the turn of the twenty-first century. The CETA program in New Haven gave voice—and visual form—to a largely ignored segment of the population and for this, New Haven was recognized as a national leader. Explore the murals in further detail here.

CETA New Haven Mural Map

“That kind of cooperation between city government and its public is most helpful in making everyone feel better about our city.” – Charles Brewer, Chair of New Haven’s Mayor’s Committee on the Arts in response to collaboration on the CETA Youth Festival