Portoluz kicks off groundbreaking cultural series WPA 2.0: A Brand New Deal

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Film screenings, forums, musical performances to jumpstart year-long series of events.


Chicago, IL -  Non-profit arts presenter portoluz will kick off WPA 2.0: A Brand New Deal — a groundbreaking project featuring over fifty arts and humanities programs throughout the city- this Wednesday, April 27 at 5PM with a celebratory gathering and film screening at Haymarket Brewery and Pub, located at Randolph and Halsted in Chicago.

The event marks the beginning of a year-long festival of programming featuring some of the nation’s leading scholars, musicians, civic leaders, visual artists, policy makers and cultural workers. The series is structured to look back on what the WPA brought to millions of unemployed Americans at the peak of the Great Depression — and how we can organize and thrive in the worst economic crisis of the last 80 years. 

The Wednesday event begins with a toast to the collaborating partners who developed the series  from 5-6pm; a 6pm film screening co-sponsored with the Illinois Labor History Society of the award-winning Peter Miller documentary Sacco & Vanzetti, called “a concise yet passionate history lesson whose relevance could not be timelier,” (Variety); a public dialogue with Professor Alison Fraunhar of Xavier University; and music by troubadour Joe Bella. Admission is free, and attendees will receive a round of drinks on the house and a complimentary copy of the program booklet showcasing the first phase of this series. To see a copy of the program booklet, click here

WPA 2.0, a Brand New Deal: During Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first term as president, Congress passed The New Deal, a series of economic programs designed to help lift the nation out of the Great Depression. In 1935, Roosevelt established the WPA, the Works Progress Administration, the New Deal’s largest agency and a core part of the effort to put millions of unemployed Americans back to work. The WPA fed children and redistributed food, clothing, and housing; built parks, bridges and schools in virtually every part of the country; particularly in rural communities and the West; and spent more than $135 billion in today’s dollars between 1936 and 1943, providing 8 million jobs and serving as the largest employer in the country. Besides providing meaningful employment to out-of-work artists, WPA organizers were inspired by the notion that all Americans, rather than just a privileged elite, could take heart from and deserved access to art.

In 2011, portoluz ten-member program committee chose WPA 2.0, “A Brand New Deal” as an overarching theme for a visionary new multi-disciplinary program designed to revisit the paradigm of public cultural engagement, within the context of sweeping new attacks on a host of civic milieus, from arts education in public schools to collective bargaining. The project is designed to look at the conditions that gave rise to New Deal reforms, and explore what parallels might be relevant today. portoluz developed this instigation as a kinetic and contemporary take on a meme by utilizing a variety of forms of cultural production to explore the Great Depression of 1929; the WPA and role of the “cultural worker;” and the current recession. By riffing on history, re-mixing archival ephemera, and commissioning and curating a wide range of voices, portoluz seeks to primarily emphasize and inspire solutions that respond to today’s worldwide economic and social crisis.

To devlelop WPA 2.0, portoluz collaborated with numerous artists, guest curators, historians, and others to produce a broad range of events – From documentary film screenings, to intimate roundtable discussions, the organizers intend to spark a city-wide discussion about art/work and  the kind of society we wish to live in.

Featured participants include: Timuel Black, Dean Baker, Van Jones, Helen Shiller, Don Byron and Reginald Robinson.  For more on the individual programs and participants, click here.  

For a gallery of promotional images of the participants: click here.


  • Saturday April 9th,  3-5:30pm: John Conyors The 21st Century Full Employment and Training Act. Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington, Chicago.
  • Thursday April 28th, 5:30: Lawyers Panel — discussion on the meaning of Haymarket. Newberry Library, 60 W. Walton Street, Chicago.
  • Saturday April 30th, 2pm: Public invited to be the re-enactors — Haymarket plaque dedication and re-enactment. Haymarket Square, Randolph & Des Plaines, Chicago.
  • Saturday May 1st, 7pm: Bucky Halker — Music and Rebellion:  The 125th Anniversary of Haymarket and May Day. Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago. 
  • Thursdays May 5th and 12th, 6pm: Mark Rogovin/Milton Rogovin — exhibit and film screening. Gage Gallery At Roosevelt University, Chicago.
  • Thursday June 9th, 5pm: Tour of the Lane Tech WPA murals. Lane Tech High School, 2501 West Addison, Room 113, Chicago.
  • Saturday June 18th, 2pm: Timuel Black and Reginald Robinson — Tim Black on remembering the New Deal. Du Sable Museum of African Amerian History, 740 E. 56th Place, Chicago.
  • Sunday June 12th,  5-7pm: Dan Swinney — “Breaking Ground: A New Educational Model for Working Class Youth. Private Hyde Park home — pre-registration necessary.
  • Tuesday June 21st,  6pm: Carl Davidson — Mondragon Collectives. Unity Center, 3339 S. Halsted, Chicago.
  • Saturday June 25th, 11am: Larry Zgoda discusses Edgar Miller. Sol Kogan Studios, 155 W. Burton, Chicago. Pre-registration necessary.
  • Saturday July 9th, 4-6pm: Lisa Brock / Debra Evenson — Recent changes in the Cuban economy. Calles Y Suenos, 1901 S. Carpenter, Chicago.
  • Saturday July 16th 7pm: Muntu Dance Theater — This Far by Faith, A Muntu Gala. Harris Theater, Chicago.
  • Sunday July 17th, 2:30pm: Theo Jamison — Master Class in Katherine Dunham Technique. Hamlin Park field house, Chicago.
  • Sunday July 17th, 5pm: David Schweikert — Alternative Economics for Hard Times..Evanston private home; pre-registration necessary.
  • Sunday August 7th, 5pm: Sm/art Cities: Building space for progressive culture and sustainable cities. Honey Co-op, 3740 W. Fulton, Chicago.
  • Sunday August 14th,  6pm: Helen Shiller — Reflections on 30 years as Alderman. Ten Cat Tavern, 3801 N. Ashland, Chicago. 
  • Date TBA: Don Byron’s New Gospel Project — music of Thomas A. Dorsey. Location TBA.
  • Tuesday Sept 13th,  6-7:30pm: Heather Becker — WPA … A Celebration of the Chicago Murals. Conservation Chicago, pre-registration necessary.
  • Monday September 12th,  6pm: Dean Baker — The Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Distinguished Lecture Series. Congress Lounge, 2nd Floor, Roosevelt University.
  • Saturday October 1st, 2pm-4pm: Thom Lucas — The African American Contribution to Printmaking Innovation and Design During the WPA period.  South Side Community Art Center, 3831 S. Michigan, Chicago.
  • Sunday October 2nd, 3pm: Bill Fletcher & Amisha Patel –The New Deal- Historical Lessons and Implications for today. Venue to be announced.
  • Sunday October 23, 3pm: Photography Exhibit — Social Realism and the Photography of Sydney Harris. Heartland Cafe, 7000 N. Glenwood, Chicago.
  • Sunday October 9th, 3pm: Las Guitarras de España — Songs from the Spanish civil war. S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.
  • Sunday October 9th, 2pm: Jamie O’ Reilly and others — Passiones/Spanish Civil War cabaret. S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Avenue, Evanston.
  • Tuesday October 11th, 6pm: Dan Brinkmeier — American Regionalism and the WPA. LillStreet Art Center, Chicago.

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