A message from our Director: It’s Easy to Visit the MFA, and It’s Good for You!

By Sarah J. Hall, Executive Director

I have found myself, throughout calendar year 2022, quoting an article by Arthur C. Brooks that I read in The Atlantic last January. In it, Brooks eloquently makes a case for art as a necessity to health — like exercise and good nutrition. A way for us to lead healthier lives, and a way for us to feel more connected to life itself — its purpose and meaning.

In it, Brooks says:

The arts are the opposite of a diversion from reality; they might just be the most realistic glimpse we ever get into the nature and meaning of life. And if you make time for consuming and producing art — the same way you make time for work and exercise and family commitments —you’ll find your life getting fuller and happier.

When I interviewed for this job back in the spring of 2020, I described myself as a “museum evangelist.” I believe passionately in museums on many levels — they are educational spaces that expose us to different modes of expression; they are nurturing spaces where we can find beauty, comfort, sanctuary, and reflection; they are challenging spaces where we confront history, opinions, ideas, different approaches to life, and even ugliness. Art museums help us engage in thinking and conversation about our world — past and present.

Years ago, at another museum, we brought in a museum education expert from New York City to do a staff workshop. We were struggling with ways to communicate our mission to visitors, and I remember vividly that at some point, we asked this guest expert her opinion on how the museum should package itself. Her response? She thought the question was irrelevant. The museum was free; parking was convenient, and free also. She said, “It’s so easy to visit your museum. People can have a favorite painting and stop by whenever they like to spend time with it. What could be better?”

All the same is true here at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts. You couldn’t ask for an “easier,” yet excellent museum. We’re located in beautiful City Park, admission is free, parking is also, and the collection is full of stand-out pieces from which to adopt a new favorite at every visit.

Partway through 2022, we had a staff meeting in which I opened up a discussion about the museum’s mission — what is it that we do that is vital for our community? What is the most compelling reason to support our work and our mission? Below are some of the ways museum staff answered those questions (and I’ll add here how proud I am to work with such a passionate and committed group of colleagues, who all believe deeply in the contributions that the arts bring to life).

    • The museum provides a deep connection to human experience through art.
    • Our founders were ahead of their time in terms of believing in the need for accessibility to art experiences.
    • We are here for everyone: from children to scholars.
    • We are here because of the community and for the community
    • We provide experiences that make life better.
    • We provide a pathway to finding personal meaning. We really do change lives, and save lives.
    • Everyone feels welcome and leaves enriched.

And, here are some of my favorite quotes on the importance of the arts, and the work of museums by people more eloquent than I am:

A society that forgets art risks losing its soul.
–Camille Paglia

A country that has few museums is both materially poor and spiritually poor … museums, like theatres and libraries, are a means to freedom.
– Wendy Beckett

Don’t go to a museum with a destination. Museums are wormholes to other worlds. They are ecstasy machines. Follow your eyes to wherever they lead you…and the world should begin to change for you.
– Jerry Saltz

Museums should be places where you raise questions, not just show stuff.
–William Thorsell

Real museums are places where Time is transformed into Space.
–Orhan Pamuk

So, my New Year’s message to all of you echoes Arthur Brooks — add some art to your life in 2023! As Brooks says, “Treat art less like a diversionary pleasure and more like exercise or sleep or loving relationships: a necessity for a life full of deep satisfaction.”

Best wishes to all for a new year of personal creativity and wellbeing,

P.S. To read my 2022 annual fund message (which gets more into the specific operations of the museum), click here: https://wcmfa.org/join-support/donate/ and please consider a donation.

If you’re interested in reading Brooks’ article in The Atlantic: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2022/01/art-consciousness-happiness-exercise/621374/

Peale, Rembrandt - Henry Robinson crpd

Museum Ideals
In this portrait, the artist Rembrandt Peale, depicts his friend Henry Robinson in a way that reflects Enlightenment values of rational thought and scientific inquiry–ideals that were also inspirational in the founding of museums. Rembrandt’s father, Charles Willson Peale founded one of the first public museums in America, and Rembrandt engaged Robinson to install the lighting in his own Peale Museum, founded in Baltimore in 1814. For the Peale family of artists, painting was a means of investigating the world that went hand in hand with their education in the natural sciences.




Museum Ideas
Can a landscape be radical? This is one of the late landscapes Courbet painted to stay afloat while living in political exile in Switzerland. Many of those landscapes were essentially memories of his native Franch-Comté region. It’s poignant to imagine Courbet painting this memory of the landscape of his youth while living in exile. Simply by choosing his native landscape, Courbet paints a kind of personal manifesto to both the act of painting and his attachment to home.