Life Lessons Through Art
Story by Lauren Sable Freiman | Apr 25, 2016
New museum serves to encourage children to reach beyond what they thought possible.
The Jefferson City Museum of Modern Art opened this past October with the express purpose of inspiring children of all ages and backgrounds to become all that they can be.
“Through the art and the stories of the artists, the hope is that local children will be inspired to find their own passion in life,” says Sarah Knee, who operates the museum with her father, Richard Howerton. “There are lots of lessons to be taught, including doing the right things in life, not being afraid to struggle for the greater good, learning your strengths so that you can help others and finding your passion and pursuing it.”
Located in a renovated 1850s building at 220 East High St., the museum gives off the trendy vibe of a New York City gallery. Sleek wood floors and art displays set the stage for the vibrant and meaningful pieces by three artists. Purvis Young, whose vibrant and colorful artwork prominently features angels, wild horses and urban landscapes, overcame a childhood of extreme poverty and incarceration to become a highly acclaimed self-taught contemporary artist. He often painted on found objects such as cardboard, vinyl and plywood. Thornton Dial, a prominent African American artist from Alabama, and Aboudia, a young artist from Ivory Coast, West Africa, are the other featured artists chosen with the very specific purpose of inspiring youth around Missouri.
Many of the artists’ pieces came directly out of storage and have never before been displayed for the public. Knee and Howerton’s hope is that students will come away with the knowledge that if they remain devoted and focused on their passions, it is possible to achieve their dreams.
“Kids today go from sport to sport to sport to activity to activity,” Howerton says. “They are jacks of all trades and masters of none. Very few kids end up being in the NBA, so its good for kids to have other types of heroes for inspiration. That’s what this is all about.”
JCMOMA offers free tours to student groups from all over the state. Located just a block from the Governor’s Mansion, the hope is that JCMOMA will be an additional stop for students around the state who travel to Jefferson City to see the Missouri State Capitol and the Governor’s Mansion.
“Every kid in the state has a tour to the State Capitol, so what we’re doing is getting these same tours to come visit,” Knee says. “There are 524 school districts across the state, so we will be reaching a lot of kids.”
After touring the museum and hearing an inspirational and educational talk presented by Knee, the hope is that students will leave with the idea that with focus, they can succeed.
“These artists started in extreme poverty, but they took to art, and they did art their entire lives and ended up being extremely famous,” Howerton says. “The whole idea is for students to come in and see if they focus on something and continue with it their whole lives, they might end up being very successful and even famous. Focus on what you love to do, whether it is art or something else.”
Recently, JCMOMA hosted a sit-down dinner, complete with white tablecloths and flowers, for students from a special education group. Many of the students were products of broken homes and most had never had such an experience. The hope, says Knee, is that the students walked away feeling special, feeling like they matter and feeling like they have something to contribute to the world.
Knee says she realizes the logistics that go into planning a field trip – getting permission from parents to funding transportation. With such a passion for reaching and inspiring students, they don’t mind renting school buses to pick up teachers and their classes, so they too can tour the museum and learn the importance of focus and hard work.
As JCMOMA gains momentum and begins to attract more student groups, Knee plans to rotate the artwork and replace it with other pieces that are in storage or on loan from private collections. The museum is open for private tours, during all downtown events and on occasional Saturdays.