Throughout 2023, the Georgia Museum of Art at the University of Georgia will celebrate its 75th anniversary. The museum opened to the public on Nov. 8, 1948, following a gift from Alfred Heber Holbrook, a retired lawyer from New York. At the time, it was the largest gift of art to a Southern university ever, initially numbering 100 American paintings by artists including Georgia O’Keeffe, Thomas Eakins and Winslow Homer. Holbrook said, in a news story from 1945, “I see the museum of the future as an instrument for serving Georgia and the entire region.”
Holbrook said that he selected UGA after extensive investigation “because he had found more evidence of genuine art culture in Athens than any university he had visited in the South.” It was a happy chance that Holger Cahill, national director of the Federal Art Project, introduced him to Lamar Dodd, the then-new director of UGA’s art department. Dodd was a great booster of UGA and of Georgia, and Holbrook was sold, moving into a house on Fortson Road and enrolling in art classes, where he was known for his enthusiasm and his pink smock. UGA’s students adopted him as one of their own and even dedicated the 1947 volume of the Pandora yearbook to him.
The museum has received many other notable gifts of art over the years, including ones from Larry and Brenda Thompson of works by African American artists (plus the funds to endow a curatorial position focusing on those artists), John and Sara Shlesinger of contemporary art, C. Herman and Mary Virginia Terry and William Parker. When the museum opened, it occupied two galleries in the basement of what was then the old university library and is now the Administration Building. Over the past 75 years, the museum’s collection has grown to more than 17,000 objects. It now occupies a large contemporary building with 21 galleries plus a sculpture garden on UGA’s East Campus. But its commitment to free inspiration and openness to the public hasn’t changed. Holbrook insisted on it from the beginning and often toured paintings around the state in a car provided by the Georgia Center for Continuing Education.
In 1982, the Georgia General Assembly designated the museum the official art museum of the state of Georgia, an appropriate choice given its presence at UGA and the way its mission mirrors that of its parent organization (teaching, research and service). On Jan. 31, Reps. Spencer Frye, Houston Gaines, Marcus Wiedower, Trey Rhodes, Demetrius Douglas and Lisa Campbell sponsored House Resolution 85, recognizing and commending the museum for its 75 years of providing free art education.
The museum began its year of 75th anniversary celebrations with Elegant Salute, its biennial fundraiser, on Feb. 4, which raised more than $435,000. A birthday party/open house/Family Day is planned for Sunday, Nov. 5, in conjunction with UGA’s Spotlight on the Arts Festival. In March, the museum will launch a “March Madness” contest that will allow visitors to vote daily through Instagram Stories to select their favorite work from the collection, moving into in-person voting once the people determine an Elite Eight. The winner will be announced at the annual Friends Appreciation Month kick-off event, on Aug. 26.
Later in 2023, the museum will finish reinstalling the last of its permanent collection galleries, a process that began in 2020, and an audio tour will launch, featuring a wide variety of voices on works that mean something to them. An interactive visitor response wall is now in place at the entrance to the museum’s permanent collection wing, asking people to share their favorite memories from its history and their visions for the future. The UGA Special Collections Library will host an exhibition on the museum’s history in its atrium from May through August.
Visit georgiamuseum.org for more information on 75th anniversary events or to learn more about the museum’s history. Visit https://bit.ly/1948-2023 to make your gift in honor of its 75 years of groundbreaking exhibitions, scholarship in the visual arts, serving as a teaching resource for our campus and community, and providing a place of enjoyment and inspiration for all visitors.