More than 75 years ago, President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched a New Deal program called the Federal Art Project to help put the nation’s artists to work. The program created thousands of poster designs, many of which showcased our great national parks, from Petrified Forest to Yellowstone, along with other treasured landscapes.
The effort was a call for Americans and international tourists to literally get out and “See America” and connect with the best our country had to offer. The national park poster designs remain treasured historic pieces and grace the walls of many park enthusiasts today.
Earlier this month, NPCA partnered with the Creative Action Network (CAN) to launch a campaign to re-imagine the historic See America posters for a digital age. As part of this campaign, anyone can contribute their own design to showcase our most precious American sites. CAN’s campaigns are not contests but efforts to inspire artists to generate powerful imagery to create a groundswell of support around various causes. The posters are easy to share on social media, will be displayed at gallery shows in New York and San Francisco (with more on the way), and are available for purchase via the Creative Action Network site, with a portion of all proceeds going to the individual artists.
So, why now? What is the goal of this re-imagined See America campaign? At NPCA, we’ve made it a priority to connect new audiences to our national parks, especially as we prepare for the National Park Service centennial in 2016. As our national parks enter their second century, we acknowledge that one of the most significant threats facing them is irrelevancy to future generations. NPCA and its members continue to fight funding cuts, incompatible development, and other issues, but if young people don’t connect with our national parks now, they won’t work to protect them in the future. The first step toward caring deeply about America’s national parks is without a doubt being inspired to visit them, including the special places in our own backyards.
Throughout the parks’ nearly 100-year history, artists and photographers have inspired millions of people to get outside and See America. Our new campaign looks to channel that same energy–to make the parks about more than just budget cuts and political games. They are first and foremost the places that preserve who we are as Americans. Even if you have yet to visit a national park or haven’t been back to one in years, our hope is that these new creative posters will spark a lasting connection for you. We hope that you will find the next place to explore in our great country–whether a historic site or a vast natural landscape.
Reaching young people is essential to ensuring our national parks are protected for the future, and we must engage them to help us identify solutions to better connect them with our shared heritage. In the coming year, NPCA is creating a Future Leaders Council that will attract young people from across the country to get their ideas on how best to connect others to our national parks. We want to hear from both current park enthusiasts and those outside the parks family on what more our parks can offer and how we can foster a lasting connection. We can–and should–be doing more to help all Americans experience these great places.
See America offers a shining display of artistic talent and showcases a diversity of styles unseen in the original artwork. The internet and social media allow us to connect with people who might not have even heard of the original Federal Art Project, but who have a desire to inspire others to visit the places they hold dear. By submitting your own artwork or simply by sharing a poster on social media, you’ll be helping to connect people to our national parks. Let’s do our part to ensure our parks are relevant and protected for future generations.
To learn more about the campaign and view the new See America posters, visit seeamericaproject.com. To read about and see the historic WPA posters, visit www.rangerdoug.com and www.postersforthepeople.com.
About the author
Theresa Pierno President and CEO
Theresa Pierno is President and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association. She joined NPCA in 2004 after a distinguished career in public service and natural resource protection, and has helped to solidify the organization's role as the voice of America's national parks.