All the People Forever
Cyra Levenson Director of Education and Academic Affairs
If you have visited or driven past the museum lately, or looked at our Facebook page, you’ve likely seen the banners on the front of the building that relay our historic mission statement: “For the benefit of all the people forever.” These words spell out in clear terms the intent of our founders more than 100 years ago—that the Cleveland Museum of Art remain a vital resource for everyone.
What does this mean today? We displayed the banners so that we could explore this question together with you, our community. For me, visiting a museum is about stepping outside my own experience and opening up to new ways of seeing. It is about losing myself in the best of ways. When you slow down, really look, and spend time in conversation with other viewers, works of art come to life. Our senses are the instruments we use to understand the world and to store memories and experiences. Museums are a great place to exercise new levels of awareness. All you need is a willingness to explore.
Artists remind us that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer. Spanning 6,000 years of art, the museum’s collection helps us consider the diversity of human experience. As we face today’s challenges and uncertainties, we need to listen to each other with compassion and open-mindedness in order to imagine creative solutions that do not yet exist.
One recent example of this kind of exchange comes to mind. Near the exit of the Kara Walker exhibition, we left a comment book for visitors. All 237 pages are filled with thoughtful observations.
My grandmother is having me write this. She says your work takes her on a journey. “Origin Story” makes her feel lost. “The Passion of Every Meme” makes her feel lonely. “Happy Couple” makes her feel like she has arrived. She says the work reaches into her soul.
This passage reflects two people sharing an experience they couldn’t otherwise have had, borrowing from an artist in the most productive and poignant of ways a new manner of seeing the world.
A third-grader told us, “I know [the museum] is a special place and an important place. It feels different than school. And when someone asks me for my opinion in the museum, I know that my opinion matters.” As members, you have likely already experienced ways the museum is meaningful to our city, our communities, our own individual lives. Reflecting our founders’ belief that museums provide a place for conversation, for inspiration, and for creating wonder and meaning, we invite you to experiment with us. Bring your favorite book and read it in the galleries. Come on a lunch break and wander until you find an unexpected place to stop and look. Strike up a conversation. Listen to a concert. Share the discoveries that you make by bringing along a friend who’s never visited the museum.
As an institution that collects, presents, researches, and supports the arts, we believe that art represents the cultural heritage, the texture, the creative problem solving, and the vibrant expression of human experience. As an encyclopedic museum, we create conversations across place and time—between a second-century Chinese scholar and a second-grader, an exiled
artist and a recent immigrant, Pablo Picasso and a high school student just learning to paint, an engineering student and a master architect.
A picture says what words alone cannot. The CMA’s collection opens up new perspectives; it can inspire great ideas and foster a sense of hope, community, and possibility. Through programs, events, and exhibitions, the museum creates an environment for open dialogue, lifelong learning, and cultural experience. Today, more than 100 years later, “For the benefit of all the people forever” reverberates with new and poignant resonance. For that reason, we wish to reaffirm our commitment to all visitors: you are welcome here.
Let Us Know
We are eager to hear about your experiences, so please share them with us by emailing visitcma [at] clevelandart.org. You can also tag your social media posts with #VisitCMA.