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Mobile Museum of Art

Joshua Shiver, Auburn University
The Mobile Museum of Art (MMofA) in Mobile, Mobile County, is one of the largest art museums on the Gulf Coast. The museum features American, European, African, and Asian art from a collection of 10,000 works that includes paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, and more. MMofA also offers a wide array of educational programs and activities for adults and children.
Mobile Museum of Art
MMofA resulted from attempts by the Mobile Art Association (MAA) to bring art to the wider Mobile area beginning in the 1940s. Founded in 1943 and incorporated in 1948, the MAA first exhibited pieces at the Mobile Public Library and Customs House in downtown Mobile. In 1957, after talks of establishing a permanent art gallery, City Commissioner Joseph N. Langan proposed a site in the middle of 750-acre Municipal Park, now known as Langan Park. He committed the city to landscaping and maintaining the grounds as part of the park area and also matching private donations for the project. The city and the museum also agreed to a 99-year lease. That same year, the association organized a fundraising campaign to fund the gallery, and construction on the new building began in 1962. On October 31, 1964, the 14,000-square-foot Mobile Art Gallery officially opened its doors.
In 1973, the museum's first long-term director, Mary O'Neill Victor, successfully led the charge to rename the museum from the Mobile Art Gallery to the Fine Arts Museum of the South. The change better represented the broader regional reach of the museum's collection. An influx of private, city, and county funding in 1976 led to the construction of a new 13,500-square-foot wing. After Joseph B. Schenk became the new acting director, the name of the museum was changed in 1988 to its current name: the Mobile Museum of Art. From 1992 to 2001, the museum also operated a 2,800-square-foot satellite gallery in the downtown area.
Mardi Gras Costumes
In 1993, the museum received a large bequest that led to plans for another expansion of the museum, and it was awarded accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums in 1997. This honor qualifies it for art loans and traveling exhibitions from some of the nation's finest institutions. With a fundraising goal of $15 million, the museum instituted its first major capital campaign in early 1999. On March 30, 2000, ground was broken on a new facility designed to incorporate the original museum building. During construction, the museum moved to temporary quarters in the downtown Mobile Civic Center. The move into the new building began in the summer of 2002, culminating in the grand reopening on September 5. The new 95,000-square-foot building, constructed at a cost of $15.5 million, included interpretive and interactive studios, galleries for traveling exhibitions, a permanent gallery, a local artist concourse, humidity-controlled conservative collection storage and processing, a theater, an auditorium, a library, conference rooms, a gift shop, and a warehouse. The museum's first rotating exhibit in the new building, Picturing French Style: Three Hundred Years of Art and Fashion, was organized to coincide with tricentennial celebration of the city's founding by the French. In support of the museum's 50th anniversary in 2014, it embarked on another fundraising campaign, renovated several areas, and published The Mobile Museum of Art: Selections from Fifty Years of Collecting, which provides an overview of the museum's permanent collection of 10,000 works. It also published The Art and Design of Mardi Gras, a collaboration with the History Museum of Mobile and the Mobile Carnival Museum that also produced an exhibit of costumes, robes, masks, and float drawings at the art museum.
The permanent collection is divided into six exhibitions: African, Asian, European, and American galleries of visual art as well as two sculpture galleries spanning periods from classical antiquity into the present day. This collection reflects a broad spectrum of paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, and decorative arts. Some notable holdings include nineteenth-century American landscapes, paintings from the Works Progress Administration era, contemporary international studio glass, turned wood pieces, and ceramics. Only a small percentage of the institution's works are on view at any given time, with the rest being used in rotating exhibits.
Students at Mobile Museum of Art
The museum hosts a number of arts and educational programs for the public. Art Talk showcases artists and experts talking about the exhibits. Live at the Museum is a monthly performance series from local and regional musicians and poets. The quarterly Culture Kitchen is a series of dinners and informal talks hosted by a community leader or artist. Film series present weekly art documentaries exploring art and the creative process. The monthly Night Market showcases locally sourced handmade goods from makers, artists, artisans, and craftspeople as well as live bands, food, and drink. The Museum School is the educational and outreach arm of the museum. Programs include themed school tours for students in grades K-12, college, and home schoolers; afterschool art classes; a Spring Break Art Camp; and an annual Art Blast Summer Art Camp. In addition, the museum sponsors experimental professional development workshops and classes, yoga, and the Dining Book Club for adults. The museum also hosts a Keepsake Tour that offers specially designed guided tours for patrons in the early stages of dementia or Alzheimer's disease to encourage intellectual stimulation, creativity, and social interaction. The museum hosts a cafe and more formal restaurant.
Much of the support for MMofA came from the Art Patrons League of Mobile, which existed from 1964-2004.The museum currently receives funding from the city of Mobile and Mobile County, state agencies, and from corporate and foundation grants and private donations. It is governed by a board of directors and executive committee. The museum is closed on Mondays and all city holidays.
Additional Resources
Alsobrook, David, Judi Gulledge, and Deborah Velders. The Art and Design of Mardi Gras. Mobile, Ala.: Mobile Museum of Art, 2014.
Sledge, John S., et al. The Mobile Museum of Art: Selections from Fifty Years of Collecting. Mobile, Ala.: Mobile Museum of Art, 2014.
Published:  December 2, 2016   |   Last updated:  December 2, 2016