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Happy Hour with the Historian: The Great Depression & The WPA

18-July from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM

Happy Hour with the Historian

The Great Depression in Key West & The WPA

July 11, 2024 | 5:00pm-6:00pm

Historian: Cori Convertito Ph.D.

In July 1934, Key West, once one of the richest cities in Florida, formally declared itself bankrupt. Of the 13,000 people who inhabited the town, 80% were on relief rolls and the City was deeply in debt. Once-flourishing sponge and cigar industries had long since moved elsewhere making it difficult for Key West residents to pay their taxes. Unpainted houses, weedy beaches, debris-littered streets and dilapidated storefronts became commonplace, all of which told the story of an isolated city in urgent need of help. Realizing the seriousness of the situation, Governor Dave Sholtz appointed Julius Stone as head of Florida’s Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA) to ascertain what could be done. After careful study, Mr. Stone determined the only way to rescue Key West was to embark on an extensive restoration and beautification program to transform the weary, unkempt island town into a vacation paradise.
A significant portion of the city’s gallant effort to reinvent itself came through the Federal Art Project (FAP), a division of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a federally sponsored program that supported professional artists who needed work. Stanley Wood and Avery Johnson were the first WPA-FERA artists to arrive in Key West, followed by Alfred Crimi, Eric Johan Smith, Adrian Dornbush, Richard Jensen, and Peter Rotier. Chronicling the wonders of the island, their paintings, etchings and murals were hung throughout the town. Reproductions of their work were made into tourist brochures, posters and postcards and sent throughout the country to entice tourists to visit America’s only Caribbean city.

This event is sponsored in part by the Department of State, Division of Arts and Culture, the Florida Council on Arts and Culture and the State of Florida, with additional support provided by Comedy Key West.


July 18
5:00 PM - 6:00 PM
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Key West Art & Historical Society


Comedy Key West
218 Whitehead Street, #5
Key West, FL 33040 United States
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