The Art Association of Newport, now the Newport Art Museum, was founded in 1912 on the belief that art is a civilizing influence and an essential component to creating vibrant communities. Charter members included Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, Pulitzer-Prize winning author Maud Howe Elliott, Louisa Sturtevant, and other artists and intellectuals. The first exhibition featured art works from local artists, as well as those with an international reputation, including George Bellows, Mary Cassatt, and Childe Hassam.
By 1915, the organization’s enterprising leaders had purchased a suitable building for their art classes and showings—the former John N.A. Griswold House on Bellevue Avenue. This exceptional example of “stick-style” architecture was the architect Richard Morris Hunt’s first commission in Newport and was completed in 1864 for the Griswold family. Art classes for people of all ages, backgrounds and experience levels were held in the Griswold House, as were temporary art exhibitions and public programs.
In 1919, a second gallery building designed by the New York architectural firm, Delano and Aldrich and dedicated to the memory of artist Howard Gardiner Cushing, opened just to the south of the Griswold House. The Sarah Rives lobby and Morris Gallery were added in 1990 providing the Museum additional gallery space as well as a climate-controlled collection storage area.
In 2005, the Art Museum embarked on a decade-long renovation of the historically significant Hunt building. Today, the Art Museum’s beautiful 3-acre campus includes the Griswold house, the Morris / Cushing Gallery and the Museum’s School, the Coleman Center for Creative Studies. Nearly 1,500 members and over 18,000 visitors from around the world enjoy the Art Museum and its rotating exhibitions, art classes, public programs and special events each year.
The Art Museum is a nonprofit organization with a Board of Trustees numbering 21 and is fully accredited by the American Alliance of Museums, a distinction only six percent of the country’s Museums have earned.
The permanent collection includes over 3,000 fine art and archival objects and includes works by Gilbert Stuart, William Trost Richards, Fitz Henry Lane, John Frederick Kensett, Winslow Homer, Lilla Cabot Perry, Howard Gardiner Cushing, John LaFarge, and George Bellows, as well as works by Aaron Siskind, Corita Kent, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Philip Guston, Dale Chihuly, Toots Zynsky, James Baker, Rita Rogers, Hugh Townley, Sue McNally, Bob Dilworth, Richard Benson, Christopher Benson, Allison Newsome, and Jesse Burke.
Nearly twenty temporary exhibitions are installed annually and over the years have included artists as diverse as J. McNeill Whistler, William Trost Richards, Georgia O’Keeffe, Edward Hopper, Winslow Homer, and Andy Warhol. Dedicated Museum docents are available to offer guided tours of the campus and educate visitors on the architecture, artwork and history of the Museum.
The Art Museum’s School offers art classes and workshops in a variety of mediums for all ages and experience levels. In addition to classes, the Museum’s experienced teaching artists provide arts instruction in public schools, community centers and hospitals across the state of Rhode of Island. Over 700 students with special needs who attend Lifespan Hospital’s Bradley Schools are provided arts engagement activities year round. The Artful Elders program serves the community’s seniors. A home school arts program subscribed to by many of Newport’s military families continues to add new participants each semester. Additionally, the Museum education staff manages a nationally recognized Museum Studies program for area high-school students.
While many aspects of the Art Museum have changed over the past 100 years, the initial reasons for establishing the organization have remained constant – a passionate belief in the power of art to inspire imagination, conversation, self-expression, and innovation. The arts contribute to the vibrancy of communities and have the potential to transform lives.