Hartford Public Library, Wadsworth Museum Named Finalists For National Award
Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History Also Among 33 Finalists For Federal Honor
By VANESSA DE LA TORRE
February 14, 2013
HARTFORD — — Two major city institutions are finalists for the 2013 National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the top federal honor bestowed on museums and libraries in the United States for community work.
Hartford Public Library, which won the award in 2002, and the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art were among 33 finalists that the Institute of Museum and Library Services announced Thursday. That group includes the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History in New Haven.
The federal agency received more than 200 nominations and plans to reveal 10 medal winners — five museums and five libraries — in April. Honorees are recognized in a Washington ceremony that has historically been held at the White House.
Susan Talbott, director of the Wadsworth, noted that of the 17 museums named as national finalists, only five are art museums.
"Being a finalist, particularly this year, is very much like being an Academy Award nominee," Talbott said Thursday. "Just being a finalist is a really good acknowledgment of what we've been doing the past five years."
In 2008, the Wadsworth launched a community engagement initiative that has brought thousands of new visitors to the museum, diversifying its base, through programs such as Second Saturdays.
On the second Saturday of every month, museum admission is free for families from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. — an event that typically draws 800 people, Talbott said, but as many as 1,600 visitors on days that the Hartford school system arranges for buses to pick up students and parents from neighborhood schools around the city.
"So many more people are coming that just never felt that this was a place where they might be welcome," Talbott said. "They never thought about coming here."
Another program, Museum on the Move, targets fourth-graders at 12 Hartford elementary schools. They take trips to the Wadsworth, the country's oldest public art museum, but docents also visit the schools, Talbott said.
Funding from corporations, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the Greater Hartford Arts Council have supported the initiative, she said. Wadsworth now collaborates with about 70 community partners, including the Charter Oak Cultural Center, the Boys & Girls Club, local artists and performers.
Hartford Public Library was located in the Wadsworth museum from the late 19th century until 1957, when the library moved to its current downtown location, said Matthew Poland, the library's chief executive officer.
"It would just be so cool to have both of us win," Poland said.
The city library's civic services have been nationally acclaimed for years — from citizenship programs for immigrants and English language classes to job training, art exhibits, jazz concerts on Sunday afternoons and even free tax preparation.
"Libraries, to really thrive, take a whole community," Poland said. "It's about the staff, it's about citizens, it's about government ... It's a big testimony, given Hartford's challenges, that we have a library that can play a significant role in reducing some of the community deficits that happen in the urban centers," such as illiteracy and unemployment.
Hartford, Omaha, Neb., and Santa Ana, Calif., are the only cities this year with both a library and a museum picked as finalists for the federal award.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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