The American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) gave its annual Visionary Award to Rebecca Alban Hoffberger of the American Visionary Art Museum in a ceremony last evening at AFAM’s museum in New York. Established in 2008, the Visionary Award honors an individual, institution, or project that has made a unique and distinctive contribution to the field of self-taught and vernacular art. The Visionary Award is chaired by Audrey B. Heckler and sponsored by the Foundation to Promote Self-Taught Art.
“Rebecca Hoffberger’s life is a testament to the power of intuition and independent thought,” said Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice, Executive Director, American Folk Art Museum. “Hoffberger created the American Visionary Art Museum twenty-two years ago as a place where self-taught artistic expression would be recognized, explored, and championed in a strong and clear voice.”
A native of Baltimore (where the America Visionary Art Museum is located), Rebecca Hoffberger began her art career as a mime who was personally selected by Marcel Marceau to join his troupe. She then co-founded a dance company, consulted for a range of non-profits, and worked to establish medical field hospitals in Nigeria. However, it was her work as development director at the Sinai Hospital’s “People Encouraging People” program that led to her vision of a national museum and education center that would specialize in showcasing the work of self-taught artists. Exhibitions at the museum include All Faiths Beautiful: From Atheism to Zoroastrianism; Respect for Diversity of Belief; Heaven, Soul, and Machine: The Coming Singularity; and The Art of Storytelling: Lies, Enchantment, Humor, and Truth. The museum now welcomes more than 100,000 visitors a year.
Before Audrey Heckler presented the award, both Dr. Colin Eisler, the Robert Lehman Professor of Fine Arts at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, and Dr. Lyn Pentecost, artist, anthropologist, and executive director of The Lower Eastside Girls Club, spoke about Hoffberger’s work. Dr. Eisler noted that “Hoffberger’s museum lauds the visionary and creative above all else” and that Hoffberger is the most “appropriate, justified, and wonderful recipient—the only person I can think of who deserves this award.”
Dr. Pentecost described how Rebecca Hoffberger’s Seven Education Goals—tenets that encourage creative self-expression and promote the use of innate intelligence and intuition—are the founding mission for the Lower Eastside Girls Club, an activist organization that breaks the cycle of poverty for school-age girls by offering art, education, and community involvement. She noted that “Rebecca’s America is the one we dream of and long for” and called her “The Visionary in Chief.”
Past recipients of the American Folk Art Museum Visionary Award are Phyllis Kind, John Maizels and Raw Vision magazine, Sanford Smith and the Outsider Arts Fair, Sam Farber, Lee Kogan, the Corcoran Gallery of Art and its 1982 exhibition Black Folk Art in America 1930–1980, Ruth DeYoung Kohler, and the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.