Miller Art Museum: A Door County Gem

I was about eight years old when my grandfather took me to the Miller Art Museum for the first time.  I spent my summers in Ephraim as a child, back when summer meant the heavenly confines of that little village- our cottage, the walk to the beach, and the path through the woods to Wilson's Ice Cream Parlor. But one day, my grandfather came to pick me up in his yellow truck, and we drove for what seemed like forever to the city of Sturgeon Bay.  I know I had crossed the bridge there many times, but I'd never been to Sturgeon Bay before, and it seemed like a strange and wonderful place.  And imagine my surprise when I found myself in a quiet, hallowed art museum, full of sculptures and paintings and the different sights and smells that a child notices when she's someplace new. DSC07268 That was in 1978, just three years after the museum opened to the public.  Since then, the Miller's reputation has grown throughout the county and the region, and rightly so.  Few other small cities have such a high quality institution in its midst, with ever-changing exhibits, a professional curator, and - rarity of rarities - free admission. I caught up with Bonnie Hartmann, executive director at the museum, to find out more. DC Arts and Culture Insider:  Door County is full of incredible visual art. What sets the Miller Art Museum apart from other venues in the county? Bonnie Hartmann:  First of all, we are one of two public art venues- the wonderful Hardy Gallery is the other - which are free to the public.  We also have a strong orientation towards education and service.  It's such a beautiful place, and for a small community to have such a wonderful museum presence is pretty unusual for a population of ten thousand people.  After a recent tour for an Elderhostel group, I heard from these words from one woman: “I have been all over the world and this is the most beautiful small museum I’ve ever seen.” DCACI: Tell me more about the educational programs at the Miller. BH:  The educational component is key to who we are.  Our school program brings students from all over the county on regularly scheduled school tours, where they interact with the art and have a volunteer guide.  We are trying to nourish the young art spirit. We do 70 tours per year, which adds up to 1,600 individual student visits per year. Our founders, Ruth and Gerhard Miller, had a vision for a yearly show for high school students.  That is something we've maintained, and it's essential to our mission. DCACI:  Wow, that's an amazing number of kids you are affecting!  Tell me some more about your exhibits. BH:  Museum staff tries to provide a stimulating variety of art and expression.  We have thematic exhibits, invitationals, and juried shows. One special thing we're done are a series of participatory exhibits for kids and families.  We've done about five of these, all in the off-season.  It's a a very special thing that we do for our own community.  These exhibits have focused on children's authors Jan Brett, Tomie DePaola, and David Diaz and also on themes like Carnival of Art, Castle of Art, and most recently, a Passion for Pets.  The response from the community for these is always tremendous. DCACI:  Yes, my kids loved those!  What's happening at the Miller right now? BH:  Our current show is called Show and Tell, it's an opportunity for us to showcase highlights from some of the finest art collectors in the area.  Twenty collectors from Door County agreed to bring 3-5 pieces form their walls or their pedestals.  We want people to see the incredible variety of artwork that is out there in the world.  It was wonderful to be able to invite these collectors, whose tastes are as various as you can find.  We did it 15 years ago and it was so well received, and we asked 20 different collectors this time.  Collectors were also asked to reflect on their collections, and create a written statement.  The exhibit features this educational, explanatory labeling which adds another level to the show.  We've also had two exhibit-related talks, where four of the collectors each had time to talk about their own particular collection.  And we had the great opportunity to have Orren and Marilyn Bradley of Egg Harbor give a talk on their renowned folk art collection. DSC07290 DCACI:  Being a non-profit, can you explain how are you funded? BH:  We are a public/private partnership, so we are aided greatly by being in the Door County Library building.  But we do have an annual budget of 160 thousand dollars which has to be raised.  That's my job!  We do it by offering family and individual memberships, through grants and foundations, putting on two major fundraisers, and through our gift shop.  We are also the very fortunate recipient of a generous estate gift. DCACI:  Wow, I didn't realize I could get a family membership.  We love visiting the museum, I'm going to pick up a membership brochure next time we stop by!  What are your vital statistics? BH:  We're located at 107 S. 4th Avenue in Sturgeon Bay.  Museum hours are Monday 10-8, and Tuesday-Saturday 10-5.  Admission is free and galleries are fully accessible. Show and Tell will be on exhibit through April 15, 2013.