Dear Friends and Supporters of the American Folk Art Museum:
Since my last President’s Letter of October 2011, we have been quite active at the American Folk Art Museum, and there is much exciting news to report. I am pleased to share our progress on many fronts, including the completion of a strategic plan, the opening of a great new exhibition, and the commencement of our search for a new Director.
As a key first step in our process of “reimagining, revitalizing, and reinventing” the Museum, we have completed a strategic planning process with the help of David Gordon, the former Director of the Milwaukee Art Museum. The plan characterizes the mission of the Museum as “promoting the appreciation of traditional folk art and the art of self-taught artists to both existing and new audiences by getting the art into the public domain and promoting scholarship into it.” The vision that will guide the Museum’s choices is “to establish the Museum: (1) at the heart of the discourse on the relevance and meaning of folk art and the art of the self-taught to today’s world; and (2) as a professionally governed institution, operating with sustainable finances.”
These mission and vision statements lead us to five major practical goals:
1. Get the art out there
While the Museum’s space at Lincoln Square will be devoted to changing exhibitions, we will also focus on promoting our art via various forms of creative presentation and collaboration. We will draw upon the collection for traveling exhibitions, explore long-term loans to other museums, and sponsor special exhibitions or seminars in non-museum spaces. Currently, 14 of our major pieces are on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in its refurbished American Wing galleries, and we are working with other museums in the New York area on potential future collaborations and exhibitions.
2. Intellectual leadership
The Museum will continue to serve as a leader for debate and discussion about the significance of traditional folk art and the art of the self-taught and its relevance to the wider art world of today. We will work to stimulate interest and promote collecting, through lectures, artist talks, and symposia.
3. Governance strengthening
However well intentioned our decisions over the past decade, the outcome was that we took on obligations we could not meet. We understand that we must be thoughtful about our commitments and live within our resources, and our resolve will be proved through our performance over time. We are working to strengthen the Board of Trustees with new members with diverse talents and backgrounds. We have recently added two new trustees, and we are actively seeking to add more.
4. Spread the word
The Museum is alive, and we are engaged in planning our artistic activities for the long-term. This is wonderful news that we must share with the wider world. As we move forward, we will improve communication with you, our museum friends and supporters, through outreach such as these President’s Letters. We must all remain active and creative to spread the word of the museum’s vitality and merit.
5. Financial sustainability
The Museum is now debt-free and has over $4.5 million in restricted and unrestricted cash and investments. It has multi-year pledges from trustees and other supporters, and generous grants from institutions such as the Ford Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, and New York City’s Department of Cultural Affairs. The strategic plan has a five-year financial projection demonstrating a balanced operating budget. The Museum’s trustees are committed to expanding the sources of our funding and to increasing our trustee and supporter base, while retaining our cash reserves.
I am also pleased to announce that we have retained Phillips Oppenheim, a leading firm of search consultants, to help us find a new Director, and I want to share my vision of what I hope for from such a person. The Museum needs an energetic and creative leader who can communicate passion for both traditional folk art and the art of the self-taught and who can extend our impact well beyond Lincoln Square. She or he should have vision, warmth, imagination, and great communication skills. The Director should be someone who can attract new resources to the Museum: trustees, donors, curators, collectors, and broader audiences, and who can manage our existing human and financial resources efficiently and effectively. The Director will have an important role in shaping and directing how the Museum carries out the goals of the strategic plan, and will have the primary responsibility for continuing to create an exciting and solvent future for our Museum. This is a tall order and will demand a special person; my fellow trustees and I are confident that we will find such a person, and we expect the Museum will be further invigorated by our new Director’s leadership.
On the artistic front, our Jubilation|Rumination: Life, Real and Imagined exhibition opened in January and is an exciting presentation of works from the range of our collection, mostly added over the last ten years. In the New York Times, Ken Johnson lauded the show as “a wonderful exhibition” from “this irreplaceable institution . . . the beauty of the museum’s approach to art is that it focuses on singularly striking objects.” Senior curator Stacy C. Hollander and I were also seen and heard on the airwaves, on Channel NY1, Bloomberg News, and NPR. Antiques and the Arts Weekly also featured a cover story on the exhibition, and the Huffington Post shared a review and slideshow of images.
The American Folk Art Museum at Lincoln Square is a vibrant, lively, newly refurbished space, and attendance continues to rise with public programs nearly every day of the week. Public tours each Tuesday and Thursday, jazz afternoons each Wednesday, our new “Make It Thursday” series, and our popular “Free Music Fridays” series draw wonderful crowds. This spring, we will launch a new Wednesday “Mastersworks” lecture series, with an in-depth look at one folk art master each week. We hope you can join us there for one or more of these activities.
In January, the Museum held the twentieth annual “Uncommon Artists: The Anne Hill Blanchard Symposium,” with presentations by folk art scholars to examine creativity within a personal, aesthetic, and cultural context. At the Outsider Art Fair, Kevin Sampson spoke about his journey to Venice, sponsored by the Museum, to create site-specific installations in conjunction with the 2011 Biennale along with three other African American self-taught artists—Lonnie Holley, Mr. Imagination, and Charlie Lucas.
We are proud of what we have accomplished so far, but we recognize we have much left to do.
I invite you to be part of our future, and ask you to continue to give us the benefit of your advice and support. Come see Jubilation|Rumination: Life, Real and Imagined at Lincoln Square! And thank you again for your past, present, and future support!
Monty Blanchard, President
Image: Aurora (detail), artist unidentified, New England, c. 1818–1822, watercolor on silk, with applied gold, oil and paper label, in original gilded wood frame, 24 7/8 x 28 3/8 x 2 1/4″, American Folk Art Museum, gift of Ralph Esmerian, 2005.8.46. Photo © John Bigelow Taylor, New York.