Bakersfield Museum of Art

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Profile appeared in our 31-1 Issue – April 2014

In 1956, the Walter Osborn family began what would become a legacy in the fine arts community here in Bakersfield. With the help of residents who provided the means necessary to build on city property, the foundation was laid for what was initially called the Cunningham Memorial Art Gallery, and what would later become the Bakersfield Museum of Art…

Painting class in the Garden

Painting class in the Garden

The family was touched to have the gallery constructed in memory of their daughter, Marion Osborn Cunningham, who they lost suddenly to a brain tumor in 1948. She was a veritable artistic force in her time, having attended Standford University, the Art Student League in New York, and being instrumental in the San Francisco arts scene alongside her husband, Ben Cunningham. When construction was complete, the Gallery was donated to the City of Bakersfield, and volunteers from the Bakersfield Art Association and an Art Commission ran the operations. It was renamed the Bakersfield Museum of Art in 1990, and it has showcased some of the biggest names in art history, including Andy Warhol and Paul Cezanne, as well as some of the best in local artwork.
Fast forward to today, and you will still find that the Museum is a cultural hub for the arts. Educational Coordinator Liz Sherwyn said, “I think this was the original goal of the Cunninghams when they opened the doors almost sixty years ago—connecting with the entire community through art,” as she cited some of the many long-standing endeavors of the Musuem to reach out to the public at large, from events as big as Via Arté to their summer art camp, established in 1994. “Because of the longevity of these programs many students who were in programs as children have remained a part of the Museum, attending adult workshops and bringing their own children.” The efforts put forth by the BMOA have certainly proven to be “multi-generational,” as Sherwyn stated.

Sculpture class in the Gallery

Sculpture class in the Gallery

Vikki Cruz, the Museum’s curator, concurred. “I have been employed with the BMOA for a little over nine years. During my time, I have witnessed one-of-a-kind exhibitions, wonderful education programs, and engaging events.” Truly a treasure to our community, Cruz also disclosed that, “Our gallery walls have been home to works by renowned artists like Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, Donald Judd, Christo, David Hockney, Jacob Lawrence, Edgar Payne, Georgia O’Keeffe, Wayne Thiebaud, and Richard Diebenkorn.”
While the Museum has brought joy to art lovers of all ages, both Sherwyn and Cruz agreed that they are always looking for ways to be an even bigger part of Bakersfield. Along with technological advances and shattering the preconceived notions that art is just for the “elite,” Cruz also said, “We continue to partner with other organizations throughout Kern County in order to strengthen our community through art.”
What began as a tribute to a tenacious woman has become a cornerstone in Bakersfield’s own cultural community, and with such a strong team at the helm, it will continue to be viewed as such well into the future.

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