Congratulations to the Columbia Museum of Art for winning the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the highest honor awarded to such an institution and, this year, awarded to none more deserving.
Those of us who have been around Columbia long enough remember when the art museum was some incommodious space where we only went on field trips if we were children and for very specific openings if we were adults. The art museum represented a type of art that didn't really have a place in our lives.
Yes, there were a few lesser-known pieces by better-known artists in which we felt a sense of municipal pride, and yes, many of us had our favorites in the museum's collection or a painting or two with which we enjoyed some special relationship. But even with the art we loved, we were bad lovers. There was nothing about the walls on which the art lived that invited us to visit. We approached the building carefully--like we were visiting the rich old lady down the street with our Ps and Qs at code yellow, careful to wipe our feet before entering, using our church voices or not speaking at all.
Let's call those The Bad Old Days.
Few institutions experience the kind of renaissance CMA has realized over the past few years.
Where patrons once tiptoed through the galleries, today we celebrate in them. We gather there like a huge extended family and feel welcome within its walls. Rather than reverence we feel a sense of comfort and community and homeyness. We visit the spaces because it makes us feel good or we just need a fix of the art we know belongs to us. And it's not just the art currently hanging on its walls. Columbia Museum of Art has given us the art of Warhol and Leibovitz and O'Keeffe and Curran and more. By empowering our community with a working knowledge of art history and art appreciation Columbia Museum of Art has created a place in our lives for the art it exhibits and the place where it exhibits it - our museum home.
Again, congratulations to everyone at CMA for a honor so well deserved.