Baltimore Fishbowl: American Visionary Art Museum & Maryland Food Bank win John Oliver’s ‘Masterpiece Gallery’ contest

AVAM Exterior -- Provided Jack Hoffberger

By Ed Gunts
August 25, 2021

The following is an excerpt from the original Baltimore Fishbowl article.

The American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore will be getting some welcome programming and promotional assistance this fall from an unlikely source – comedian, television commentator and art collector John Oliver.

Oliver and the crew of his weekly HBO series, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, have selected the Inner Harbor attraction as one of five winners out of nearly 1,000 entries in a first-of-its-kind competition that he launched last fall to help American museums recover from losses suffered during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each winning museum gets $10,000 to support operations plus permission to exhibit three paintings from Oliver’s private collection for three weeks at a time – an offer that’s designed to help the institutions attract paying visitors. The museums will also be featured in a segment on Oliver’s show — exposure money can’t buy.

The Maryland Food Bank and four other food banks will also benefit from the selection, receiving $10,000 each from Oliver’s team to support their efforts to feed the hungry.

The contest has been called Last Week Tonight’s Masterpiece Gallery and Last Week Tonight’s Gallery for Cultural Enrichment. It was launched when Oliver lamented in a program on October 4, 2020 that American museums were losing revenue needed to sustain operations because of the COVID-related lockdowns that begin in March of 2020.

Oliver’s announcement comes one month after AVAM’s founder, Rebecca Hoffberger, disclosed that she plans to retire next March after serving as the only director and primary curator the museum has ever had. An international search for her replacement is underway.

The museum is holding a fundraiser and farewell gala for Hoffberger on November 20, a date that overlaps with the period that Oliver’s paintings will be on display in Baltimore. A Last Week Tonight segment featuring AVAM is expected to air sometime this fall, before the show takes a winter break.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, AVAM typically drew 110,000 to 125,000 visitors a year, of which 55,000 were paid ticket admissions. In 2020, the paid visitor attendance was 16,242, less than one-third of the usual 55,000, largely due to the lockdowns and crowd limits imposed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The museum was closed from March 14, 2020 to September 25, 2020. It reopened several months before the Baltimore Museum of Art or the Walters Art Museum. Still, many of its most popular events, such as the Kinetic Sculpture Race, the outdoor Flicks on the Hill movie series and the July 4th Pet Parade, were not held in 2020.

Hoffberger said she appreciates every award the museum receives but she is especially honored by the latest award because it’s coming from Oliver, whom she considers a visionary in his own right. She said she’s a big fan of Oliver, both in his current show and going back to the days when he was part of The Daily Show that Jon Stewart hosted on HBO, and she’s grateful to Oliver for recognizing how much museums have lost because of the pandemic.

AVAM chose the Maryland Food Bank as its partner because “they have long made an art out of sincerely and practically caring for people in need and crises,” she said. They are “more deserving of all our help now than ever.”

Read the complete story.

Source: Baltimore Fishbowl

Also see: Baltimore Fishbowl: Founder Rebecca Hoffberger will step down as head of American Visionary Art Museum