Storycorps Door-to-Door had the pleasure of visiting the Erie Art Museum, one of the 2011 Institute of Museum and Library Service (IMLS) National Medal Award winners. In our three days of recording, participant after participant shared stories of how the museum has become a major community hub, and we quickly came to understand why the museum was honored nationally for its “significant and exceptional contributions to their communities.” The museum has a lot more than an award to be proud of, with programming that allows its patrons to truly “be moved.”
“Old Songs, New Opportunities,” the museum’s folk arts project headed by museum educator and folklorist Kelly Armor, provides services to the sizable refugee population in the area. The project connects women with day care centers whose mastery of indigenous songs can be shared with children; women who participate in the program also receive childcare training that they are able to turn into full-time employment. Another notable program with a youth component is “Kids as Curators,” which allows middle school teachers and students to collaborate with the museum to create an exhibit of student work. In this year’s exhibit, one group of students have used the stockpile of cultural artifacts in their rooms to see future career aspirations come to life.
The Erie Art Musuem’s incredible programming might also be attributed to the multimillion dollar expansion that was completed in 2010. Under the helm of John Vanco, the museum’s director, the museum added nearly 10,000 square feet and renovated their existing space, which includes the impressive Old Customs House that was originally built as a bank in 1839.
The devotion of Vanco and hist staff is truly inspirational. While the debate among experts over the role of museums still continues, the good people at the Erie Art Museum have gradually and quietly built up the region’s cultural mecca — where the staff are just as dedicated to civic engagement and social justice as they are to the ideals of an art museum as a place of conservation and intellectual and cultural import.
The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) awards The National Medal to five libraries and five museums for extraordinary civic, educational, economic, environmental, and social contributions to their communities. This award is the nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries, and StoryCorps is proud to record the stories of these distinguished institutions. Click here for a full list of this year’s winners.