Elevator Chat: Rebecca Alban Hoffberger is founder, director and principal curator of the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM)
Rebecca Alban Hoffberger is founder, director and principal curator of the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM), which opened Thanksgiving weekend, 1995. AVAM is celebrating its 20th anniversary this month.
MSAC: When did you realize you were destined to make the arts your life’s journey?
Rebecca Hoffberger: As a child, my thoughts were so fast my motor mouth couldn't even keep up. I was drawn to creative and philosophic expressions in art and science as they wordlessly convey - via visual symbols and/or audio vibrations - uplifting, universal concepts. Art and physics, dance and music, all transcend mere words. At their best, they serve as conveyances of love and beauty, wisdom and delight, much like my favorite art - Nature itself.
Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, pictured with DeVon Smith’s “World First Robot Family,” courtesy of AVAM.
MSAC: Please explain how the American Visionary Art Museum came to be.
Rebecca Hoffberger: I had the idea for the museum as a whole egg, very much as it is today - not gradually conceived - back in 1984. I conceived of the museum as layered with good, hiring formerly homeless persons, erecting grand scale exterior mosaics with youth at-risk and incarcerated teens in an apprenticeship experience that became the largest in the U.S.
MSAC: AVAM gives voice to those people overlooked in life. How do you find the artists who exhibit in the visionary museum?
Rebecca Hoffberger: I am above all looking for people not looking to be “shown” - those whose joy is foremost in creating wonders for the sake of creating and expressing truth within, not for the need of being shown. My biggest sadness-guilt is I’ve never been able to keep up with the stacks of unsolicited portfolios sent to us from artists, their galleries, friends or family. I have ended up showing work that I received images of as much as 13 years before. In addition, having an umbrella of a yearly noble exhibition theme, instead of just presenting images, objects and personalities, has been a successful exhibition formula.
MSAC: Tell us about the “Seven Educational Goals” and how do they differ from traditional art education objectives?
Rebecca Hoffberger: I wrote them as fast as my pen would write. They have been adopted by educators the world over and became the founding mission statement for the wildly successful Lower East Side Girls' Club in NYC. They shift the understanding of a museum from mere rare object caretaker to a place that most highly prizes the healing and inspirational support for its visitors of all ages. We have never changed one word of the AVAM Seven Education Goals.
MSAC: Congratulations on AVAM’s 20 years! Looking back, what are some of the highlights you recall along the way to today’s success and the upcoming gala celebration?
Rebecca Hoffberger: The highlight has to be the scale of joy AVAM has generated - so many art cognoscenti as well as those who normally dislike museums have claimed AVAM as their "all-time most favorite museum in the world." Bringing Archbishop Tutu to happy tears, our annual Kinetic Sculpture Race, twice on the cover of the Wall Street Journal, and all the international polymaths, engineers, scientists, poets, and Nobel Laureates who have partnered in public programs have been great personal highlights, kind of like heaven on earth.
MSAC: How did Flaming Lips front man Wayne Coyne become a part of the show?
Rebecca Hoffberger: My first Assistant Director, John Lewis, brought Wayne to tour with me a few years ago. Wayne is a majorly creative person who was nearly murdered in a robbery when he was a fry cook at a Long John Silver's. That trauma unleashed a torrent of joy and creativity and an appreciation for life unlike anything from his pre-mugging life. I love that alchemy like that is possible - that those among us can actually emerge better from something that could have also easily been our downfall.
A 1.1-acre "wonderland,” AVAM houses an outdoor movie theater seating 2,000; two sculpture gardens; craft classrooms; a 700 seat conference center; 67,000 square-feet in three historic and new construction buildings overlooking the Inner Harbor. AVAM is America’s official national museum/education center for self-taught, intuitive artistry.