Monday, Aug. 21, the College of William and Mary’s Muscarelle Museum of Art launched an exhibit at the Williamsburg Regional Library’s Stryker Center to celebrate 40 years since the museum’s founding in 1983. The exhibit will be on display until Nov. 1, and explores the history, significance and origin of the Muscarelle starting over 300 years ago.
“Having such a long history with the Muscarelle personally, it means a lot to see the Museum still thriving in such a meaningful way,” Muscarelle Director of Collections and Exhibitions Melissa Parris wrote in an email to The Flat Hat. “I believe that every great university deserves a great university museum. With the 40th anniversary, we have the opportunity to reflect on the past, present and future.”
The Muscarelle’s 40th anniversary takes place alongside College President Katherine Rowe’s declaration of the 2023-2024 school year as the Year of the Arts, as well as a period of significant changes to the College’s campus, including the opening of a new music facility and the renovated Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall this fall. The Year of the Arts is spearheaded by a coordinating committee and focuses on arts education in the 21st century, while the faculty in the Arts and Sciences has a separate group who is also working to celebrate the arts.
“Arts and Sciences has been working on how to really put William and Mary on the map as a regional arts venue, given that we have these incredible new buildings and really, really creative, talented faculty and students,” Dean of Arts and Sciences Suzanne Raitt said. “So we have these two parallel efforts — a working group in Arts and Sciences and the Year of the Arts Working Group.”
There will be a soft opening of PBK and the music facility on Sept. 9 featuring an inaugural performance by Leah Glenn, a Frances L. And Edwin L. Cummings professor of dance and Africana Studies, and her company, Leah Glenn Dance Theatre. The event will include an open house and tours before the performance and a reception after.
The College’s planned Arts Quarter will also include the renovation to Andrews Hall and an expansion of the Muscarelle into the Martha Wren Briggs Center for the Visual Arts, which is slated to open in fall of 2024. According to the museum’s website, the expansion will triple the Muscarelle’s existing exhibition space and include an event hall, seminar rooms, a courtyard, a large atrium and various storage and office spaces.
“I think having a really lively art scene and culture on campus is going to enhance the lives of any student who has any interest in it,” Raitt said. “The arts are important to everybody, obviously, not just students, you know, imagination is what really makes us human and distinguishes us from other animals.”
“The arts are important to everybody, obviously, not just students, you know, imagination is what really makes us human and distinguishes us from other animals.”
Muscarelle Director David Brashear has been involved with the Muscarelle since 1999, serving on the Muscarelle board of trustees for many years before being appointed interim director in January of 2019. In 2020, Brashear was officially named director of the museum. Brashear will give a lecture on Oct. 10 in Tucker Hall Theatre titled “Forward Vision: The Future of the Muscarelle Museum of Art.”
“To be engaged in an architectural project, like the expansion of the museum, has been really exciting for me — it’s something that fits really well with my personality and my skill set,” he said. “I have a deep, deep understanding of the needs that the institution has in terms of physical space and a good sense of how we have effectively as a team decided to address all those needs in the new building.”
Brashear mentioned that the Muscarelle has long been a champion of the visual arts in the state of Virginia, even functioning as the only art museum between Richmond and Hampton Roads at the time of its founding. The museum’s first director, Glenn Lowry, Ph.D., now serves as the director of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Lowry will attend the Muscarelle’s 40th anniversary dinner on Nov. 15 in the College’s Alumni House.
As the museum prepares for this new chapter, Brashear emphasized the importance of using the new exhibit space and the opening celebrations in October to learn and reflect on the Muscarelle’s history. According to Brashear, the initial reaction to the exhibit has been positive.
“It is incredibly compelling, it’s really well done,” Brashear said. “It was a collective effort by the staff, but it was designed primarily in the end by Julie Tucker, our marketing and events manager, who has incredible design skills. And it’s just an excellent exhibition. I think people are really going to like it.”
Brashear and Parris both discussed the museum’s potential to house more exhibits following its expansion, and mentioned upcoming exhibitions’ tentative placement in the new building. Upcoming exhibitions include a focus on Michaelangelo’s drawings for the Sistine Chapel in collaboration with the Vatican Museums to be presented in spring of 2025, an exhibit on the works of artist Lynne Drexler in fall of 2025 and later exhibits focused on African American still-life artists.
“Increasing our visibility will increase visitation and ultimately that will help us integrate more seamlessly into the curriculum but also into the life of the community,” Parris wrote. “We will also have increased space to work safely with museum collections, allowing greater access for faculty and students to view and study original works of art. Increased gallery spaces will enable us to have more of the collection on view as well as bring in traveling exhibitions.”
Brashear also voiced his belief that the expansion of the museum, along with the growing Arts Quarter, will increase visibility of the arts on campus.
“I think the arts have always been considered to be important to William and Mary,” Brashear said. “The expanded gallery space we’re going to have is going to allow us to do so many more things and quite frankly, simultaneously than we were ever able to do before.”
Brashear also mentioned that 14 student internships through the museum will be posted this fall. Hannah Saad ’24 currently acts as the Marketing and Events intern for the museum, and mentioned that she has been able to work with the museum’s first summer camp for kids and has done extensive research on the history of the Muscarelle for the 40th anniversary exhibit.
“It is important to celebrate the history of the Muscarelle because it gives us great insight into understanding the evolution of appreciation for the arts at W&M.”
“It is important to celebrate the history of the Muscarelle because it gives us great insight into understanding the evolution of appreciation for the arts at W&M,” Saad wrote in an email to the Flat Hat. “The Museum has grown tremendously which is a testament to the emphasis that the College has put on dedicating resources to the arts. I am super excited for students to be able to use this space as a place to hang out, study, and appreciate the immense collection of art that W&M has!”
To Raitt, the expansions offer the College the opportunity to enhance the arts community and advance the technology of art facilities.
“The new building is really gorgeous, but moving into a new building and figuring out how it works can be really stressful and really challenging, even while it’s very exciting,” Raitt said. “I’m delighted that we’ve been able to give interested students and the faculty who are going to live in these buildings the chance to inhabit these incredible spaces.”
The museum will host its first Community Art Day Sept. 30 in the Williamsburg Community Building. The event is open to all community members, and will feature live music, food trucks, a chalk art competition and various art-based activities.