As we embark upon the second decade of the 21st century, we also celebrate the 80th year as Alabama’s first art museum. Like most community museums in America, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts’ beginnings were modest, its aspirations lofty, its resources meager. But it took firm root in central Alabama, and what began as a small seedling was carefully nurtured, and has blossomed into an institution of national stature, a source of enduring civic pride.
The Museum first found its home in an abandoned school building at the corner of Lawrence and High Streets in downtown Montgomery provided by the City for the token fee of $1.00 a year. After some renovations and securing its first year’s operating budget of $1,000 funded, like now, from the city, it formally opened to the public as the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts on November 9, 1930.
The old school provided a physical home, but the Museum was given its identity by the hard work of dedicated citizens. Under the combined leadership of Mayor William A. Gunter, Board of Trustees’ chairperson, Mrs. Harry S. Houghton, and local artist J. Kelly Fitzpatrick, the Museum moved quickly to become a fully functioning arts institution. While the founders would not recognize the 100 thousand square foot building that is the Museum’s current home, they would certainly take pride in it, and in the ongoing community spirit that sustains an institution they could hardly dare imagine in 1930.
While never wavering from its basic mission or values, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts has significantly reinvented itself several times. Not surprisingly, each renaissance occurred with the creation of a new facility and a refinement of collecting, exhibition and programming philosophies and policies. In 1959 a new Museum-Library complex was dedicated thanks to the City of Montgomery and voters who approved a $1,000,000 bond issue for construction. Collections, exhibitions, programs, patron, members, and visitors grew steadily until the early 1980 when it became obvious that the McDonough building was obsolete.
A gift of forty-one American paintings from Blount, Inc. and 35-plus acres of land from Mr. and Mrs. Winton M. Blount allowed the Museum an opportunity to significantly expand the size and quality of its permanent collection and to become the visual arts component to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in the existing Wynton M. Blount Cultural Park. With the addition of more than $7 million in contributions from the City, individuals and businesses, the Museum’s magnificent facility became a reality in 1988. The Young Gallery was added in 1993, the Weil Print Study Center opened in 1998 the Education and Exhibition Wing was dedicated in 2006.
In 80 years the MMFA facility has grown dramatically, its collections are nationally regarded, education programs are diverse and innovative, board, staff and volunteers are professional, and we have not wavered from the founding mission established in 1930, to “cherish, sustain and increase the love and appreciation of fine arts in the state of Alabama.”