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The American Collections Enhancement (ACE) Initiative

Final Report - 2000
The American Collections Enhancement (ACE) initiative was established in 1996 to highlight American art collections that are not widely known, but deserve greater attention. This special initiative, part of the Henry Luce Foundation's American Art Program, was in effect through the year 2000.

The Luce Foundation's American Art Program, from its inception in 1982, set out to fund and promote scholarship exclusively in American art. It did so, and continues to do so, by providing support to museums, universities, and service organizations for exhibitions, publications, doctoral dissertations, fellowships, research, and other field-enhancing projects. By 1995, the Foundation had supported some 90 art museums across the country with grants totaling $40 million.

Despite this commitment to American art, both the Foundation's own research and an independent program evaluation indicated that there were other important American art collections with which the Foundation remained only partially familiar. Known American art treasure troves like The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio or the New Britain Museum of American Art in Connecticut had never received Luce funding. Others, like the Wichita Art Museum in Kansas, had never even approached the Foundation and were basically well-kept secrets.

Determined to correct this, in 1996 the Luce Foundation developed the American Collections Enhancement (ACE) initiative to proactively "find" collections with signifcant American art and fund projects explicitly intended to raise their visibility. After polling several hundred museums to determine the extent of their American art resources, the Foundation set out to approach 50 institutions over a five-year period, and the art program's director set out "on the road," making site visits in some 30 states.

The process itself offered an education, illuminating much about American art collections - their whereabouts, their scope, and their needs. Many of the targeted museums are small to mid-size and, often due to their locations, primarily serve as local and regional resources. Many have not only signifcant American art collections, but also impressive building facilities, and ambitious programs. Many are civic landmarks treasured by their local constituencies. Despite their worthy collections, however, many lack the resources, and sometimes the encouragement, to develop materials and programs to reach beyond their own cities. Certainly scholars seek out the specialized collections, but beyond that, these facilities are often unknown to others generally interested in American art.

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Important American art "surprises" abound throughout the country for anyone other than the dedicated scholar. Consider, for example, the extensive American drawings at The Arkansas Arts Center, pottery at The Bennington Museum in Vermont, colonial portraits at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Maine, figurative sculpture at Brookgreen Gardens in South Carolina, the John Sloan archive at the Delaware Art Museum, Native American jewelry at the Millicent Rogers Museum in New Mexico, post-war and contemporary art at the Rose Art Museum in Massachusetts and at the Des Moines Art Center in Iowa, and abstract expressionist works at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Montana.

With the Luce Foundation's support, ACE projects strengthened specialized aspects of collections, such as American folk art at the Shelburne Museum in Vermont, furniture at the Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute in Utica, New York, photography at the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, and decorative arts at the Milwaukee Art Museum. Collection research, cataloging, and computerization were undertaken by institutions with such notable American art collections as the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, the Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, The Currier Gallery in New Hampshire, and the Mead Art Museum, the Smith College Museum of Art, and the Worcester Art Museum, all in Massachusetts.

The ACE initiative also encouraged important collaborations and collection-sharing initiated by the Addison Gallery of American Art at Andover, Massachusetts, a group of southeastern art museums led by The Columbus (Georgia) Museum, the Reynolda House Museum of American Art in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and The Speed Art Museum in Louisville. Other museums received support to reinstall collections and for promotion, often using an anniversary or civic occasion to maximize attention for their permanent collections, as was the case at the Newark Museum in New Jersey, the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa, and the Farnsworth Art Museum in Maine.

Between 1996 and the ACE initiative's end in December, 2000, the Luce Foundation distributed nearly $8 million for projects at 57 museums in 40 states. More than half of the recipients were new to the Foundation's roster of grantees. It is gratifying for the Luce Foundation to confirm that American art is alive and well in so many one collections, in so many cities across this country. Enhancing their visibility fulflls the American Collections Enhancement initiative's objectives, and represents a natural progression in the Luce Foundation's ongoing commitment to promoting the best in American art.

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