Dear members and friends,
As the American Folk Art Museum launches into 2014, I want to pause to thank you for your continued support and trust and spotlight a few projects that made 2013 rewarding! We are all bombarded by “communications” of every variety—and there are all kinds of metrics that institutions use to evaluate effectiveness. However, throughout my career I have found that when a museum stays true to its mission and is transparent, open to new ideas, and respectful of its visitors and supporters, it will continue to flourish and add great value to our cultural landscape.
I also want to assure you that we have an extraordinary professional staff. Everyone has shown their value in special ways and distinguished him- or herself. We are bound together with our love of the art, the institution, and the varied audiences we serve.
With each project we also make infrastructure changes that have a lasting impact.
But now to the great news: accomplishments and goals for this year. Please let us know if you have any questions or comments.
• The Museum presented several highly regarded exhibitions:
Artist & Visionary: William Matthew Prior Revealed (1/24–5/26) was called “fascinating” by Ken Johnson of The New York Times. Prior (1806–1873) “democratized” portraiture with a sliding-scale fee structure that made them accessible to a broad cross-section of American society.
• The Museum reached international audiences: The Encyclopedic Palace, in the Museum’s collection, served as the inspiration and theme for the 55th installation of the international Venice Biennale. Marino Auriti (1891–1980), a self-taught Italian American artist, created the work as an architectural model for a museum in which all worldly knowledge would be documented, preserved, and exhibited. The Museum also cosponsored an exhibition of Hiroyuki Doi’s meticulous ink drawings at the Pen Station Museum at the Pilot Corporation’s headquarters, in Tokyo (10/7–12/20).
The Museum’s presentation of the work of African American artist Bill Traylor (6/11–9/22) along with a companion exhibition Traylor In Motion enjoyed record attendance and took the art world by storm. Jerry Saltz raved in New York Magazine, “the former slave Bill Traylor is one of the best American artists. Ever.” In The New York Times, Roberta Smith declared “this show firmly places Traylor’s art where it belongs, in a tradition of abbreviated figuration that runs the length of human existence and across all cultures.”
alt_quilts (10/1–1/5) featured three contemporary artists who are inspired by the history and structure of American quilts. The artists use the remnants, pieces, choices, and geometries of quilt techniques, modernized by unexpected materials such as 16 mm filmstrips and used Tyvek envelopes. Karen Rosenberg, in The New York Times, called it “quilts as powerfully contemporary artworks . . . the point to take away from this show is that quilt making was, and is, a highly personal art form, and that artists should feel free to tinker with it as they see fit.”
• National partnerships included collaborations with the South Street Seaport Museum, the Museum of Biblical Art, the Boca Raton Museum of Art, and the Figge Art Museum, in Davenport, Iowa.
• Attendance is steadily rising: 2013 attendance was nearly double from the previous year. During the Bill Traylor exhibition, the Museum had the highest number of visitors in its 50-plus year history.
• New acquisitions: a new trust of $400,000 and donation of artwork was bequeathed from Neal A. Prince; major donations and major works will be announced soon.
• Key staff positions have been filled: Dr. Valérie Rousseau, Curator, Art of the Self-Taught and Art Brut; Suzanne DeVegh, Manager of Adult Public Programming; Lauren Arnold, Deputy Registrar; Megan Conway, Managing Editor; Anna Hessa, Development and Events Associate; and Stefanie Levinson, Director of Retail Operations. Levinson most recently served as Divisional Merchandise Manager at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has also held management roles at the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim Museum during her 30-year career in New York museums. Levinson’s appointment coincides with the retirement of Shop Director Marie DiManno, who was on staff of the Museum for 32 years. It is sad to say good-bye to such a longtime friend, but we are happy for Marie as she embarks on new endeavors.
• Two new art advocacy councils were established: the Council for the Study of Art Brut and the Self-Taught and the Council for Traditional Folk Art. Please contact the Development Office if you would like more information.
• A new, active young supporters group is gaining strength. Chaired by Abigail Stone and Maria Fillas and set to officially launch in March, Young Folk will engage folk art enthusiasts in their twenties and thirties through innovative and creative events. Stay tuned for more information in February.
• The Board of Trustees re-established key committees such as Finance, Investment, and Collections. Other committees, Development/Marketing and Education, have been established and will gear up in 2014.
• A generous grant from Trustee Karin Fielding and Dr. Jonathan Fielding, the Friends of Heritage Preservation, and the American Folk Art Society allowed us to digitize thirty years of the Museum’s world-class publication, Folk Art magazine (formerly The Clarion), now available online in its entirety. As I write this, 73,446 people have viewed the magazine from six continents around the world!
• We welcomed new and additional foundation support: The Robert Lehman Foundation, the Coby Foundation, JM Kaplan Foundation, the Lily Auchincloss Foundation, and reinstated support from the New York State Council on the Arts.
• The Ford Foundation granted the Museum $200,000 to develop an Exhibition Policy, a five-year exhibition calendar, and an evaluation system. Museum staff came together over the course of the year, assisted by Marsha Semmel, Senior Advisor at Noyce Leadership Institute and former Deputy Director of Museums and Director of Strategic Partnerships at the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Other outside experts contributed to this process. The plan was evaluated by the Board of Trustees for formal acceptance.
• The Museum website will be revamped by a grant of $137,000 from the IMLS, which will be used to expand and enhance our technological capacity and digital resources.
• On the educational front, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded the Museum its prestigious Art Works grant to support our scholarly lectures and symposia, and the Museum presented several sold-out public programs. The Museum, the Critics, and the Self-Taught, moderated by Dr. Valérie Rousseau, focused on self-taught artists and their importance in the “canonical” history of art. Bill Traylor: Beyond the Figure, a full-day symposium, brought together a dozen distinctive leaders in the field—artists, curators, scholars—to explore particular facets of the artist’s work and life.
• Dr. Valérie Rousseau participated in the Outsider Art Fair Paris, where she delivered a lecture on Bill Traylor and art brut in the United States.
• Stacy C. Hollander, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs, Chief Curator, and Director of Exhibitions, presented several public lectures in association with each of the Museum’s exhibitions, including a full-day symposium organized in association with the William Matthew Prior exhibition, and gave a talk, “Politics NOT as Usual,” on the history of political quilts by women at the Katonah Museum of Art in association with their exhibition “Beyond the Bed: The American Quilt Evolution.” Her article The Game Is Afoot, about the game board collection of Bruce and Doranna Wendel, appeared in the July/August issue of The Magazine Antiques.
• We continued our signature Teen Docent Program, which selects students for a semester-long program that culminates in museum tours for their peers and enhances leadership and public speaking skills. For the fall semester, fifteen students were accepted from the Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School and Talent Unlimited High School. This year, we began a Teen Docent Program blog so that students can share their experiences.
• Our innovative K–12 educational programs reach thousands of New York City schoolchildren each year. The summer camp program welcomed over 600 campers. A new Quilts Educators’ Resource was published to integrate quilts into the classroom experience.
• A two-day Professional Development Program served 140 Department of Education cultural liaisons and educators, in partnership with the organization Cool Culture.
• In anticipation of the Museum’s forthcoming exhibition Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art, 100 students from the Fashion Institute of Technology researched the Museum’s collection and participated in interactive gallery tours to create their own folk art-inspired garment, which were on view at the FIT student gallery in December.
• Folk Art Reflections, a program for individuals with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, continues to fill to capacity each month, connecting seniors and their care partners to artwork and to one another. Director of Education Rachel Rosen participated in a symposium at the New York City Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to share information about this program. Other partnerships for adults with special needs include the Queens Museum of Art and the organization COPE NYC, to help developmentally disabled adults to participate in art making, Hearthstone Alzheimer Care, and Sunnyside Community Services.
• Our free, first Saturday Families and Folk Art program continues to bring together intergenerational audiences by exploring exhibitions and creating their own artwork in the studio. In September, the Bill Traylor Family Day was a huge success! With the help of children’s book author Don Tate and illustrator R. Gregory Christie, dozens of families new to the museum were introduced to the iconography and themes in Traylor's work.
• Museum docents and volunteers led weekly public tours, engaging visitors with guided gallery experiences, and reaching over 800 museum visitors in 2013.
• The Fall Gala, the annual benefit fund-raiser held in October, honored Lucy Sykes (Fashion Consultant, Rent the Runway, and Brand Ambassador) and Dr. Valerie Steele (Director and Chief Curator of the Museum at FIT), and was hosted by Tim Gunn of “Project Runway.” Chairs Yaz and Valentín Hernández and Laura and Richard Parsons and Honorary Chair Betsy Bloomingdale ensured a fun evening as well as a successful fund-raiser for the Museum's educational programs, exceeding our goals.
Some Things to Look Forward to in 2014
• In January 2014, we will feature original ensembles by thirteen fashion designers inspired by artworks from the Museum’s collection in Folk Couture: Fashion and Folk Art, opening January 21.
• We are ramping up public programming for Folk Couture: a panel discussion, “Interplay: Art and Fashion,” a series of lectures by exhibition participants called “Designers on Art,” a fashion sketch contest, and a pattern-making workshop.
• We will introduce two technologies during Folk Couture to enhance the exhibition experience: a cell phone tour and a microsite/Tumblr with in-depth information on each designer, information about the creative process, behind-the-scenes photos, and interviews.
• The project resulting from the generous grant of $1.6 million from the Henry Luce Foundation, as part of its 75th anniversary initiative, will emerge in our blockbuster exhibition Self-Taught Genius: Treasures from the American Folk Art Museum. It will open at the Museum in May and travel to six museums across the country for almost three years. Featuring more than one hundred works of art from our outstanding collection, the exhibition will share the importance of works of art by the self-taught, from the eighteenth century to artists working today, with a national audience.
• Also in May, the Museum will present a major symposium in connection with Self-Taught Genius, which will be recorded and posted online. The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalog with new scholarship from Stacy C. Hollander and Dr. Valérie Rousseau. A dedicated website will enhance the catalog with additional scholarly material as well as interactive conversations with collectors, contemporary artists, and other scholars.
• Additionally in May, we will partner with the Outsider Art Fair and present our annual Visionary Award to a scholar and leader in the field of art of the self-taught.
As always, I look forward to seeing you at the Museum.
Dr. Anne-Imelda Radice