Museum or gallery? One is not the other in world of art | As I See It

Spring Street’s sidewalk passes by the IMA’s atrium

By Lee Brooks

Aspiring to become a museum is a lofty goal.

The effort conjures images of permanence and trust. The public depends on these institutions to preserve objects for study, discussion and exhibit so future generations can appreciate and learn from their collection.

As one who has contributed in the past, IMA’s decision to simply remove their primary goal of becoming a museum from their mission statement has left me dazed and confused.

Many of us expected a real museum. What happened?

Lee BrooksWhen asked why they abandoned their primary mission to: “Develop and operate an accreditation-eligible visual arts museum in Friday Harbor serving the San Juan Islands,” one IMA board member exclaimed “We will never become an accredited museum.” This statement makes it clear they are not a museum, for the moment at least. What are they then?

A space that displays and sells art is called an art gallery. Are they going to settle for just this?

The Burke Museum began as a small building at the University of Washington some of us passed by every morning on the way to class. It was a very non-assuming structure with humble beginnings. Who knew they housed a vast collection in the basement?

Bill Holm became a legend in part as a result of his association with the Burke. The museum is currently promoting Shaun Peterson as he now creates Coast Salish art in a world that almost forgot about his people.

The Burke museum believes in the basics of building collections and mounting serious exhibitions. Their firm adherence to their mission resulted in a surprise announcement over the winter. They are tearing the place down.

Plans are to build a new museum in the large parking lot next door and transform the current site into the new parking lot. This upcoming building is an acknowledgement from many donors in appreciation of the Burke’s contribution to the study of Northwest Coast art.

The vacant property next to the new building here in Friday Harbor holds a very similar possibility.

IMA is at a crossroad this moment and needs to make some decisions. They can continue as an art center or actually commit to becoming a museum. Either road is possible, but they must now make a choice.

There is a new director on the horizon. An actual art museum is within grasp. Their current contributions to the community are commendable. Will they be up to the challenge of the responsibility required to obtain their original stated goal?

— Editor’s note: Fourth-generation Washingtonian and 43-year resident of San Juan Island, Lee Brooks is owner of Friday Harbor’s Arctic Raven Gallery, which marks 20 years in business on San Juan Island in June.