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Who We Are


Founded in1898 as an artists' association, the Erie Art Museum is the only comprehensive visual
arts facility in northwest Pennsylvania. The Museum anchors downtown Erie’s cultural and
economic revitalization and serves an audience of more than 50,000 people every year, as well as
over 400 artists, through public art programs, exhibitions, artist service programs, and supporting
a local gallery scene by organizing regular Gallery Nights—coordinated openings typically
involving a dozen commercial and college galleries.

The Erie Art Museum was granted the National Medal by the IMLS because of its innovative
programming and service to a wide public audience. The Museum serves a broad-spectrum
audience regionally. Educators and students, pre-K to college, are served through in-service and
other formal training programs, including Teacher Week, artist residency activities, internships,
after-school programs, and the innovative exhibition program Kids As Curators. A diverse
public, including racial and ethnic minorities and people of all income brackets, is addressed
through free admission programs, including the Blues & Jazz Festival at Frontier Park that
attracts 15,000 to 20,000 annually.

The Erie Art Museum has been recognized for excellence within the traditional realm of
presenting quality exhibitions, but also for its efforts to broaden exposure to art and the
perception of what represents art, as well as to foster awareness and involvement in community
and societal issues. The Museum’s tour program, for example, rejects the conventional talkinghead
docent model. It enables viewers to bring their own experiences to understanding works of
art through the use of Visual Thinking Strategies, art-making activities, and dialogue with living
artists.

Another important audience is Erie’s growing refugee population, which numbers more than
10,000. Through its folk arts program the Museum instituted Old Songs New Opportunities, a
collaboration of eight organizations that provides training for refugee women, enabling them to
work in child care facilities and share their native songs and dances. The program not only keeps
these folk traditions alive, it enriches the lives of day care children and the other teachers.
Women from Sudan, Somalia, Bosnia, Congo, Ukraine, Bhutan, Palestine and Iraq have
transformed the participating day care centers.

The Museum’s sustained commitment to the community is expressed in its continuous
development of new programming and facilities over the past several decades and in the recent
$11 million facility expansion project that opened in October 2010. The expanded Museum
provides publicly accessible gathering space both indoors and outdoors and facilities for
community meetings, lectures, and performances. The increased gallery space allows long-term
exhibits from the collection to be incorporated into the curricula of visiting schools, and enables
the Museum to present regional, national and international artists, both contemporary and
historical, in temporary exhibitions.

The new facility is a green building, the first LEED-certified building in the City, and a public
manifestation of the Museum’s institution-wide commitment to sustainability and green
operations. Broad community support enabled this enlargement, positioning the Museum as a
significant regional attraction, as well as improving its ability to serve existing audiences.
“We are honored to be recognized for the Museum’s longstanding commitment to community
engagement and innovative programming. That commitment and the support that it engenders—
combined with the flexibility of a small institution—has enabled the Museum to respond in
creative ways to current issues and new ideas,” said John Vanco, Director of the Erie Art
Museum.

What We Do

The mission of the Erie Art Museum is to maintain an institution of excellence dedicated to the promotion and advancement of the visual arts

        • by developing and maintaining a quality art collection

        • by encouraging art in all its forms

        • by fostering lifelong art learning

        • by building community among artists, art students and the public.

In 1898 a group of artists under the leadership of Lovisa Card-Catlin came together to form The Art Club of Erie. The new organization met at the Art Gallery in the new Public Library on Perry Square, where it would make its home for the next half century. The members organized exhibitions of both local and national artists, presented and discussed papers on subjects of artistic importance, and raised funds to acquire the artworks which became the collection of the Library and are proudly displayed today in the new Raymond Blasco Library on the bayfront. The Art Club moved, together with the Erie Public Museum, to the Watson-Curtze Mansion on West Sixth Street in the 1940s, and through the grass roots efforts of its members and volunteers, finally acquired a home of its own, the Wood-Morrison House, adjacent to the Curtze property, in 1956. The building and the organization gradually became known as the Art Center, and following a highly successful membership drive, and the new United Arts Fund Drive, the first professional Director was hired in 1968.

As the Erie Art Center, the organization expanded to include year-round exhibition and education programs (1969), instituted an active program of collecting and a traveling exhibition program (1973), added a darkroom (1973), frame shop (1975), studios for artists (1977), ceramics studio (1981), and commenced the Contemporary Music Series (1982). Having outgrown the Sixth Street building, a search for a new facility was begun in 1980, even as the programs were expanding into the ArtWorks building at 1505 State Street. In 1983 the move was made to the Old Custom House on State Street, and the organization's name changed again to Erie Art Museum. That same year, the former Ashby Printing Company property at 423 State and 10 East Fifth was acquired and became the Art Museum Annex.

Planning for the redevelopment of the Annex and expansion of the Museum led to the incorporation, in 1992, of Discovery Square, which raised and invested over $5 million in creating the expERIEnce Childrens Museum and in restoring and upgrading the historic buildings housing the Art Museum and the Erie County History Center. The Museum is now preparing for the groundbreaking of the new building which will link the Annex with the main Museum building, create a new, visitor-friendly entrance on Fifth Street, and provide the Museum with the extensive new galleries and other facilities with which it will serve the Erie community in the 21st Century.