Profile - National Museum of Women in the Arts

Wilhelmina Cole Holladay and Wallace F. Holladay began collecting art in the 1960s, just as scholars and art historians were beginning to discuss the underrepresentation of women and various racial and ethnic groups in museum collections and major art exhibitions. Among the first to apply this revisionist approach to collecting, the Holladays committed themselves for over 20 years to assembling art by women. By 1980, Wilhelmina Cole Holladay began to devote her energies and resources to creating a museum that would showcase women artists, and the Holladay Collection became the core of the institution's permanent collection.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts was incorporated in November 1981 as a private, non-profit museum. During its first five years, NMWA operated from temporary offices with docent-led tours of the collection at the Holladay residence. Special exhibitions also were presented. In 1983 the museum purchased a 78,810-square-foot Washington landmark near the White House, formerly a Masonic Temple, and refurbished it in accordance with the highest design, museum, and security standards. It won numerous architectural awards.

In the spring of 1987, NMWA opened the doors of its permanent location with the inaugural exhibition American Women Artists, 1830-1930. One of the country's foremost feminist art historians, Dr. Eleanor Tufts, was curator for the show, a definitive survey of the first century of work produced by America's women artists. To underscore the museum's commitment to increased attention for women in all disciplines, NMWA commissioned Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich to write Concerto for Two Pianos and Orchestra for an opening concert. Performed by two women pianists and the National Symphony Orchestra, the piece was inspired by five paintings from NMWA's permanent collection. The Washington Post called it "a 20th-century Pictures At An Exhibition."

The National Museum of Women in the Arts brings recognition to the achievements of women artists of all periods and nationalities by exhibiting, preserving, acquiring, and researching art by women and by teaching the public about their accomplishments.

To fulfill its mission, the museum cares for and displays a permanent collection, presents special exhibitions, conducts education programs, maintains a Library and Research Center, publishes a quarterly magazine and books on women artists, and supports a network of state and international committees. NMWA also serves as a center for the performing and literary arts and other creative disciplines.



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