On the St. Johns River in Jacksonville, A Visionary’s View

I had the pleasure this past week of spending some time in Jacksonville at the The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens, meeting with the Museum’s energetic Director Hope McMath and Lori Ann Whittington, who arrived in August as its new Director of Advancement.

At the end of a productive day, we walked back to see some of the Museum’s contemporary works recently installed in an airy gallery that overlooks the Gardens and the St. Johns River. As I stood there admiring the paintings, the sculptures, the installation and the view, I thought about how the Cummer came to be, and what it has become.

The Cummer was born in 1958 when philanthropist and arts lover Ninah Cummer announced she planned to gift her personal art collection and her riverfront estate to establish a new art museum. Mrs. Cummer asked Jacksonville’s civic, community, and cultural leaders to support the museum that would be built on the estate following her death.

Jacksonville rose to the challenge.

Today, the Cummer has a strong permanent collection and is celebrated for its diverse exhibitions and programs (when I was there, a starkly moving civil rights photography exhibition was on view, a loan from our own High Museum of Art in Atlanta). The beautiful Gardens (listed on the National Register of Historic Places) have been restored with care, and literally extend the Museum beyond its walls.

As fundraisers and fundraising consultants, we often talk about vision. From experience, we know that vision is both rare to find–and powerful in its presence.

Visionary thinkers are able to see what does not yet exist. Visionary leaders are able to make it happen. Ninah Cummer was a visionary. She saw something that others could not yet see, and then she put her faith in the Museum’s future generations of leaders to make it happen.

Thank you, Mrs. Cummer!

Photo Credit: The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens