Special to The Herald-Mail
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"See it, hear it, feel it," the membership slogan for the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts, captures the museum's founders' vision for the museum they established between 1928 and 1931.
Hagerstown-born Anna Brugh Singer and husband William H. Singer Jr., a native of Pittsburgh and a gifted artist, conceived the idea of an art museum in Hagerstown's City Park. They envisioned an institution that would be free to the public and would, in Anna's words, "enrich the lives of our fellow citizens." The Washington County Museum of Fine Arts has been fulfilling the Singers' dreams for almost 80 years.
On Sept. 16, 1931, the museum opened its doors to the public. In honor of this special anniversary year and in order to increase support and participation, a membership initiative has recently been launched. The event will culminate on Friday, May 13, at the opening of a retrospective of the work of well-known local artist R. Benjamin Jones.
In 1954, under the leadership of Museum Director Bruce Etchison, a membership program was created to bring the people of the community into closer relationship to the museum and to help the organization with rising costs of maintenance and operation.
Since that time, members have been the heart and soul of the museum by providing monetary support as well as essential volunteer participation.
What is membership all about? What are some of the myths or misconceptions surrounding membership? It is time to debunk the myths and welcome new members to this "treasure of Washington County."
Probably the most wide-spread misconception about the Washington County Museum of Fine Art arose from the mandate given by the Singers when they donated funds to build the museum. According to an agreement struck with officials in Hagerstown and Washington County, the museum was to be "maintained thereafter with public funds." This arrangement worked effectively for close to a quarter of a century and led to the belief that the museum was, in fact, a function of local government.
As demands on public funds increased in a growing Washington County, so did the needs of the museum.
By this time two new wings, gifts of Mrs. Singer, had been added to the original structure and appropriations from city and county had decreased.
The museum had to find other sources of revenue and membership became an important piece of the income pie. Today, the city and county provide approximately 20 percent of operating funds while still generously supporting special projects such as the new courtyard.
Another myth is that museum membership is exclusive. In accordance with the Singers' wishes, the mission of the museum is to bring art and art education to everyone.
Individuals, couples and families from every walk of life are invited to become part of this unique center of social exchange and cultural enrichment.
The museum's membership slogan is "See it, hear it, feel it!" There are plenty of activities that incorporate that mantra. Take an art class. Come to a Sunday concert.
Or attend the ninth annual Art in Bloom, which concludes from 1 to 4 p.m. today. Garden Club members from the Tri-State area combined their talents to create floral arrangements that depict works of art from the museum's collection. It is just one of the many ways the museum interacts with the wider community.
Membership is not expensive. There is a membership level for every income. Every membership dollar helps the museum maintain the quality for which it is known. The museum needs you.
So why would you want to join if admission is free? The benefits of membership are many and varied and include enhanced communication about museum activities, invitations to Members First Preview Days, receptions and programs, discounts at the gift shop and reduced admission for selected educational programs, classes and trips.
Go to www.wcmfa.org to learn about membership.
Marty Talton is a resident of Hagerstown, a community volunteer and a member of the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts.