Columbia Museum of Art receives nation’s highest honor for museums and libraries

There were gasps and a few teary eyes at the Columbia Museum of Art when staff learned this week the museum had been awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Service, the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to the community.

CMA is one of 10 recipients – five museums and five libraries – to win the award from the Institute of Museum and Library Service.

It is the only art museum to receive it.

Earlier: Columbia Museum of Art, Richland County library among 30 finalists for National Medal Award

“It’s an extraordinary recognition,” CMA executive director Karen Brosius said. “We’ve worked very hard to reach out to the community.”

In addition to its first-rate art collections, the museum puts an emphasis on art education and outreach, which is what the award celebrates, Brosius said. “Our educational programs fill a vital need by reaching students, particularly those in minority and underserved communities, to help them succeed in school and to support their development in creative and lasting ways.”

Among the museum’s partnerships is one with St. Lawrence Place, a transitional housing community, in which students in grades K-5 attend weekly art sessions after school.

“The team at the museum takes an interest in our children,” St. Lawrence Place CEO Lila Anna Sauls said Tuesday. “They have a passion not just for the arts but for sharing the arts with children who normally would not be exposed to it. That is not something you see at a normal museum.”

The museum also partners with Gonzales Gardens on the Prosperity Project, providing a creative after-school program for children in the public housing complex, as well as with First Steps Richland County, which works to improve school readiness for children and provides opportunities for kids to be creative.

“There are way too many kids in Columbia who have never been to an art museum,” said First Steps CEO Rick Noble. “If they don’t have the opportunity to go to the art museum, let’s bring the art museum to them.”

The 2016 winners were selected from 30 finalists and 125 nominations nationwide. Richland Library was also finalist but did not win.

Two South Carolina institutions have received the medal before: EdVenture Children’s Museum in Columbia in 2011 and Georgetown County Library in 2007.

CMA Board president Claude Walker said the award underscored the Columbia Museum of Art’s mission to be a cultural resource for the state.

“This award shines a spotlight on Columbia and the state of South Carolina as a vibrant, world-class hub for the arts and the creative community,” he said.

The museum will be presented with the National Medal for Museum and Library Service at a June 1 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Related: Columbia is more awesome than you think. Here’s why

2016 National Medal Finalists

Brooklyn Public Library (Brooklyn, New York)

Chicago History Museum (Chicago, Illinois)

Children’s Museum Tucson (Tucson, Arizona)

Columbia Museum of Art (Columbia, South Carolina)

Dallas Holocaust Museum (Dallas, Texas)

Dallas Public Library (Dallas, Texas)

The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art (Amherst, Massachusetts)

Fitchburg Art Museum (Fitchburg, Massachusetts)

Haines Borough Public Library (Haines, Alaska)

Honolulu Museum of Art (Honolulu, Hawaii)

Illinois Fire Service Institute Library (Champaign, Illinois)

Imagination Station, Toledo’s Science Center (Toledo, Ohio)

James E. Brooks Library at Central Washington University (Ellensburg, Washington)

Juneau Public Libraries (Juneau, Alaska)

Kitsap Regional Library (Bremerton, Washington)

Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum (Wausau, Wisconsin)

Longmont Public Library (Longmont, Colorado)

Lynn Meadows Discovery Center for Children (Gulfport, Mississippi)

Madison Public Library (Madison, Wisconsin)

Mid-America Science Museum (Hot Springs, Arkansas)

Nantucket Historical Association (Nantucket, Massachusetts)

North Carolina State University Libraries (Raleigh, North Carolina)

Otis Library (Norwich, Connecticut)

Richland Library (Columbia, South Carolina)

San Mateo County Libraries (SMCL) (San Mateo, California)

Santa Ana Public Library (Santa Ana, California)

Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History (Santa Cruz, California)

Terrebonne Parish Library System (Houma, Louisiana)

Tomaquag Museum (Exeter, Rhode Island)

Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, New York)