For the love of art
The Vero Beach Museum of Art celebrates its 30th year in 2016 with a number of major exhibitions. Shown here in the museum’s Schumann Gallery is the work of New York sculptor Nathan Sawaya. In The Art of the Brick®, on view through Jan. 3, the sculptor uses the Lego brick and transforms it into an art medium, resulting in awe-inspiring sculptures.
VBMA celebrates 30 years of community involvement, growth
BY CATHERINE ENNS GRIGAS
If a museum is a reflection of its community, the Vero Beach Museum of Art is a prime example of how much the area’s population treasures and supports the arts. In the 30 years since its doors first opened on Jan. 31, 1986, the museum has grown dramatically and has become the major force in the region’s cultural vibrancy.
Sitting on a multi-acre spot along the Indian River in Riverside Park, the 75,000-square-foot museum is in an impressive neoclassical building with an adjacent sculpture garden. But it was not always that way. Its beginnings were humble: A temporary show of artwork loaned by local residents and exhibited in a tent during the late 1970s.
From those early fundraising efforts of a community-minded groups, the Alliance for the Arts and the Vero Beach Art Club, the museum is now an accredited state-of-the-art education and exhibition facility known as the Vero Beach Museum of Art, an all-encompassing institution for not only the visual arts, but music, film and dance.
The museum houses its own permanent collection of American art with nine changing exhibitions yearly. Major traveling exhibitions that explore a variety of art and artists, from Italian landscapes of the Renaissance that normally hang in the venerable Uffizi Gallery in Florence to Stephen Knapp’s Lightpaintings that employ a new medium for the 21st century, are part of its diverse calendar.
In addition, several exhibitions were curated and organized by the museum and have traveled on to other art institutions.
“We have grown from a small-town arts center into a regional museum,” says executive director and CEO Lucinda Gedeon, Ph.D. “We could not have moved to the next level without the involvement and dedication of our board, the staff, the many volunteers and our community.”
Gedeon took the helm of the museum 11 years ago, coming from the State University of New York at Purchase, where she was director of the Neuberger Museum of Art. She knew Vero Beach could make its own mark in the art world.
“I was driving over the Barber Bridge and could see the museum and it’s position on the water and thought, what a perfect spot to do my George Rickey retrospective.”
When the Alice and Jim Beckwith Sculpture Park opened in 2007, it featured the kinetic sculpture of Rickey in the most important survey of his work, Gedeon was curator. Large geometric sculptures constructed of stainless steel moved and twirled in the Indian River breeze.
CELEBRATING 30 YEARS
As the museum celebrates its 30th year, it will feature the work of painter and photographer John Baeder, whose work examines the iconic eateries found along the American roads. The show is organized by Jay Williams, curator of exhibitions and collections, who also wrote an accompanying book.
The breadth of exhibitions has kept the docents on their toes, according to Toni Hamner. When she oversaw the more than 40 docents who volunteer there, she says the job was “better than being a docent at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.”
“Every six weeks, you have to learn three completely different sets of material, not only different periods of time, but different media and styles.”
Hamner’s interest in art began in her youth with travels to many of the major museums of the world, and with her education at Finch College in New York City.
A longtime resident of Vero Beach, she was one of the first members of the Alliance for the Arts and helped to organize those early tent shows simply because, “I did not want to raise a child in a cultural backwater.”
She was there when the Center of the Arts, funded by $2.5 million in private donations, opened.
When the first expansion, which doubled the size of the museum to nearly 55,000 square feet, took place, she was there when the museum temporarily moved its operations to the Indian River Mall in order to remain open. The arts school and exhibitions continued at the mall through the construction, and the mall’s AMC Cinema agreed to show art and independent films, a practice it has continued to this day due to a loyal following.
Hamner calls herself “the all-purpose girl,” and has served in almost every volunteer position at the museum, which changed its name to the Vero Beach Museum of Art in 2002. She held several positions on the board of trustees, writing wall text for the exhibitions and the museum’s history for its 25th anniversary.
Its exhibitions are just one facet of the museum.
It is an invaluable resource for education and prides itself on its community outreach programs.
There are tuition-subsidized classes in art for children. They include the KidZ Artshops as well as classes by nationally recognized instructors.
In its community engagement programs, the museum works with a number of community organizations, including the Drug Abuse Treatment Association, the Alzheimer and Parkinson’s Association of Indian River County and the county’s school district, offering art enrichment classes in the public schools. It includes the literacy initiative, “Moonshot Moment, in partnership with The Learning Alliance.”
Its International Lecture Series, which in 2016 brings in Dick Cavett, film critic Leonard Maltin, food writer and former Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl, and art fraud expert Colette Loll, is so popular it has already sold out.
The museum’s Distinguished Professor Series brings in nationally renowned professors and authors to speak on a variety of subjects in art, politics and history.
A HIGH BAR
And, it has operated from its first days not only in the black, but with a surplus. Combined with the donations from a group of significant contributors, the Athena Society, the museum has been able to add to its permanent collection, concentrating on American Art of the 20th and 21st centuries.
“We set a very high bar for the museum, and we have reached many of our goals and want to maintain that standard,” says Gedeon. Among the factors that have allowed it to take on major exhibitions were the addition of a closed loading dock, and state-of-the-art security and climate control systems.
Scott E. Alexander, who serves as the chairman of the museum’s board of trustees, attributes much of the museum’s growth and success to Gedeon.
“She has elevated it dramatically,” he says. “The museum continues its mission state and its outreach to the community. It has become a community resource. With all that has been accomplished, financial success follows. But people are attracted not only for the quality of the exhibitions, but because it is involved with the community.”
The future challenge for the museum, he says, is to address the aging of Vero’s population and involve the next generation of Vero residents.
The museum is, he says, “an example of what Vero is all about and how important the arts are to the quality of life here.”
Hamner’s dream is to have every single child in the school district visit the museum at least once a year.
Those issues are all being examined, says Gedeon, whose aim is to keep the museum a vibrant and essential part of a very supportive community.
“We want to sustain and maintain that quality, but we want to keep it fresh with an eye to the future,” she says. “We are constantly doing needs assessments to make certain we are doing everything we can do.”