From the Director, Alex W. Barker
Last night I gave a tour of the Museum to a group of potential supporters— folks who know the community well, but might know the Museum less well than we’d like.
As always on such tours, I learned as much as the attendees. At the same time that I was telling them about the Museum—about the range and scope of its collections, the programs we offer, our history, and the backstories to many of the iconic works in our collections—they were telling me what interested them, where their passions lay, and how they took the information provided and made it personally meaningful. I saw different members of the group respond to different parts of our mission, or quicken to different kinds of narratives that placed individual works into a specific context. Some people were fascinated by the behind-the-scenes processes of a museum, others by the iconography of a painting, or the archaeological significance of an object in the Weinberg Gallery.
It’s a lesson worth relearning. While no museum can be all things to all people, it can’t be a single thing to all people either. Different people have different learning styles, different interests, and different backgrounds that inform and influence the way they perceive the Museum and its messages. Our role is less to communicate a single message to everyone (research suggests that’s nearly impossible) than to provide contexts that make works meaningful to the broadest range of visitors.
That’s one reason we reach out to visitors in so many different ways—a range of exhibitions, presented in different ways and showcasing different periods, places and media, a wide array of public programs ranging from free films to children’s programs, from lectures to special events like Art in Bloom or the Haunted Museum. Over the past year we’ve worked with local schools and storytellers to help elementary and middle-school students empathize with the lives of the people depicted in African-American art, with Freshman Interest Groups to help incoming University freshmen better appreciate the world of antiquity, with residents across the state to better understand the folk arts unique to the region, and with the elderly using art to help forestall the effects of Alzheimer’s. In the year to come our offerings will be just as diverse, with exhibitions examining the work of American watercolorist Keith Crown, art books from the Vigía collective by Rolando Estévez, medieval Hindu art of South Asia, portraiture on ancient coins, the fantastic woodcuts of Tom Huck, and the real-world concerns of the ancient Maya.
As a museum we offer exhibitions to delight the eye and feed the soul. But there’s more to the Museum than what meets the eye. Balancing breadth and depth informs everything we do. The Museum not only holds a wonderful group of paintings by Keith Crown, it also holds the complete set of his sketchbooks (nearly 140 of them), a marvelous and unmatched resource for understanding this influential American watercolorist. We hold similarly deep and important collections of works from the Vigía collective in Matanzas, Cuba, and this fall the University of Missouri will host an international conference on the Vigía books and their significance. And over the last few years we’ve been steadily developing our painting collections in specific areas, with acquisitions of works by Jessie Beard Rickly, Miriam McKinnie, Fred Conway, Joseph Delaney, and Robert MacDonald Graham, building strengths in areas uniquely our own. All of these efforts are aimed at helping us serve the needs of our audiences, and positioning us for the future to do more, better.
Come by and tell us how we’re doing. And I’ll see you at the Museum.