As the new President of the Board of Trustees, I must begin my tenure by communicating to all our loyal supporters the great sense of excitement and opportunity that my fellow Trustees, the Museum’s staff and I feel as AFAM enters its second 50 years. There is no doubt we have been through a financial crisis and there are many challenges ahead of us, but with the commitment of our Board of Trustees and the Museum’s many dear friends, we are entering a dynamic and creative new phase of our existence.
At the Museum, we have begun speaking of our new “three R’s”: reimagine, revitalize, and reinvent. It is an exciting time, for there is much to do. We must continue to be frugal with our financial resources, but for the first time in many years, we can think of undertaking new initiatives and developing new approaches to our mission of collecting, presenting, studying and disseminating our traditional folk and contemporary outsider art. The American Folk Art Museum has, I believe, a unique mission and a unique place in the universe of museums, and all of us associated with it feel a great sense of responsibility and opportunity to remain in the forefront of America’s and the City’s artistic dialogue.
On a personal note, growing up as I did in rural North Carolina, I was blessed with parents who insisted that my brothers and I always treat others with respect and courtesy. The two most important expressions in our household were “please” and “thank you.” I am sure that as President of AFAM, I will be using both of those phrases a lot.
I know I will be saying “please” often and loudly, as the Museum seeks your support and advice. We will be saying “please” to all of our constituencies and friends as we seek the financial support that will fund our many varied activities and ensure the long-term viability of the institution. We will also be saying “please” as we work with other arts institutions to develop creative joint projects and collaborations that spread the awareness of our great art. And we will be saying “please” to any thoughtful friend who can offer us good ideas for how we can best accomplish our varied responsibilities and missions.
This first President’s Letter, on the other hand, must focus on saying “thank you.” There are many people and institutions to whom we owe thanks, and I hope you all will join me in appreciating what they have done for the Museum. Each of them has contributed significantly to make our current opportunity possible.
First, I must thank the Museum’s Board of Trustees with entrusting me with this exciting leadership opportunity. In particular, I want to thank our Chair, Laura Parsons, whose tenure as President coincided with a period of great financial challenges and who led us through this difficult period with grace and diligence. It was vital to me that she remain a leader here. Second, I want to acknowledge and thank Joyce Cowin, who has joyously committed to Lincoln Square and the Museum for many years, and whose recent substantial financial pledge in support of the revitalized Museum is the rock on which our future is built.
There are many, many others to thank:
• Our loyal staff—who have remained committed to AFAM’s success through difficult times, and have enabled the Museum to continue producing exhibitions, information, educational materials and activities at the highest level. Thank you.
• The Museum of Modern Art—who has been a great neighbor on 53rd Street. Thank you.
• Tod Williams and Billie Tsien—who designed a gem of a building for us and remained friends and supporters throughout our trials. Thank you.
• The Ford Foundation—which has responded to our challenges with significant support and will be stimulating us to become a new model, collaborative and innovative institution. Thank you.
• Kate Levin and NYC’s Department of Cultural Affairs—who offered New York City’s support and encouragement to us to continue our unique and independent place in the artistic life of this great City. Thank you.
• The Rose Family—who, by entrusting us with the Infinite Variety red and white quilt show, gave us a chance to show New York and the world how great a museum we could be and stretched us to envision new ways we could extend our reach outside one location’s four walls. Thank you.
• The New York Times—whose critics’ appreciation of and passion for our art and our institution is second to none and is always valuable to us. Thank you.
Finally, I want to thank all of you who are reading this. You care about our art and our Museum. You are the reason it was worthwhile to save this Museum and its vision, its capabilities and, most of all, its art. You are the reason we are still alive today. We want more of you to see more of what we have, to understand better the exciting creativity, discipline, talent and vision of the many artists, renowned and unheralded, known and anonymous, who we have collected, who we respect and cherish and whose works we show. I hope to get to know all of you better. Thank you for your past, present and future support!
Monty Blanchard, President