Letter from Executive Director Emily Ballew Neff:
Dear Brooks Members:
As I write this, nationalist fervor has sparked in the United States and abroad, as the promises of globalization have fallen short for many. We have heard on the news from many political pundits about the divide—economically, politically, and socially—between rural and urban citizens, and have viewed new political maps of the states that make it look like Swiss cheese.
Shortly after the November election, The Commercial Appeal’s Chris Herrington found special meaning, even comfort, in the Red Grooms exhibition at the Brooks, noting: [Red Grooms: Traveling Correspondent] is bursting with colorful appreciation for both [urban and rural life], asserting a shared vernacular Americana that encompasses both crowded subway cars and front-porch pickin’ sessions. Grooms’ lesson, in life and in art: You don’t have to choose.
I especially appreciate Herrington’s use of the word “shared,” for that is what an art museum does. Museums connect people with art from all around the world, providing an opportunity to find common ground in the human experience and also illuminate our differences, so that we may better understand them. This is the civic function of the public art museum, born in the eighteenth century as a democratic institution. It is yours.
In that spirit, we would love to have your feedback, especially as 2016 comes to a close and we mark the half-way point in the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art’s centennial celebration. How are we doing?
We ask ourselves that question daily and, recently, we convened a focus group that spent an afternoon at the Brooks wandering the galleries, speaking to staff, answering questions, and completing surveys. We learned a great deal from this experience and the information gathered will be included in the Museum Assessment Program (MAP) we are undertaking with funds provided by the Alliance of Art Museums (AAM) and the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS). Thank you to those who attended and provided honest and productive feedback.
We listened, and we promise to continue our effort to provide radical hospitality to all visitors; an awe-inspiring place in which to view art spanning some 5,000 years and from all around the world; a vibrant series of educational programs; an edgy, witty, and serious film series; Inside Art, the popular hands-on interactive gallery devoted to teaching visual literacy to our children through playful and engaging activities, and much more.
We have accomplished a lot in a very short time, introducing two new art series to our exhibitions program, Brooks Outside and Rotunda Projects; a major centennial exhibition, Red Grooms: Traveling Correspondent; repurposed some museum spaces to provide more galleries for display, including a dedicated gallery for the art of Carroll Cloar, northern baroque painting, and photography. But there is so much more to do, on the inside, on the outside, and behind-the-scenes.
After a long and patient wait from our members and visitors, we will be opening a casual café in 2017. Soon to come will be a museum store. We hope you will return again and again to see what else we have done during our centennial year to provide you with the best experience possible and in keeping with our legacy as the oldest and largest art museum in the state of Tennessee and the region.
We are thankful to you, our members, and wish you the very best this holiday season and for 2017.
I look forward to seeing you in the galleries,
Dr. Emily Ballew Neff