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How the national ‘Arts for EveryBody’ initiative could change the theatrical ecosystem

Tony Award nominee Lear deBessonet with Nataki Garrett and Clyde Valentin launch the Federal Theatre Project-inspired program that could reverberate to regionals and Broadway.

(L-R) Lear deBessonet, Nataki Garrett and Clyde Valentin (Credit: Courtesy of Jasculca Terman Strategic Communications)

From 1935 to 1939, the United States was host to the Federal Theatre Project (FTP). The program was part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, designated under the Works Progress Administration and specifically designed to fund live arts and entertainment to reinvigorate American culture at the tail end of the Great Depression.

Now, after another period of national hardship — the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the racial reckoning and tumultuous governing in 2020 and 2021 — Tony Award-nominated director Lear deBessonet considered how to revive arts and culture nationwide. Using the FTP as a model, DeBessonet, along with Nataki Garrett and Clyde Valentin have launched the organization One Nation/One Project (ONOP) and the program Arts for EveryBody.

One FTP project, in particular, called for 18 cities to stage their own unique productions of Sinclair Lewis’ play “It Can’t Happen Here” on the same date (Oct. 27, 1936), each with the stamp of local artists and the local community.

Just as in 1936, today’s ONOP has chosen 18 cities to create their own communal art project. “On July 27, 2024, they will all simultaneously premiere their own public artworks, responding to the prompt: No place like home,” deBessonet explained. The artwork can be visual or performance-based (“even the choice of art form is a reflection of the unique voice of those people,” said deBessonet) and local artists have been enlisted to guide citizens in participation.

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