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Investing in Education at SAMA Through Cordelia Scaife May’s Colcom Foundation

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Colcom Foundation, a philanthropic organization created by renowned conservationist Cordelia Scaife May, has a multifaceted mission that extends beyond conservation efforts. It also aims to preserve history and provide educational opportunities focused on the protection of cultural heritage.

As part of this mission, the Foundation has donated $25,000 to the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art (SAMA) in support of its impactful Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program.

Since its inception in 1976, SAMA has been a center of cultural enrichment and artistic innovation in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Comprising five satellite museum facilities in Altoona, Bedford, Johnstown, Ligonier, and Loretto, SAMA has created a widespread and impactful presence, offering diverse art experiences to the communities it serves.

A Rich History

SAMA’s journey began modestly in June 1976 with a permanent collection of 47 paintings, drawings, and sculptures, as well as 20 etchings by John Sloan. Under the leadership of Michael M. Strueber, the first Director, and Rev. Sean M. Sullivan, the first President of the Board of Trustees, the museum embarked on a mission to preserve, exhibit, and advance American art.

The museum’s initial efforts laid a strong foundation for future growth, and over the decades, SAMA expanded its reach and influence.

The Altoona Museum opened in 1979 and moved to the Brett Building in 1994. The Johnstown Museum followed in 1982 and eventually relocated to the Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center at the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown in the 1990s.

The Ligonier Valley Museum opened its doors in September 1997, later enhancing its offerings with the addition of the Donald M. Robinson Sculpture Park in 2018. Bedford welcomed its own SAMA facility in May 2018, further extending the museum’s cultural footprint.

A Hub of Artistic and Educational Endeavors

With a permanent collection now exceeding 7,500 works by local, regional, national, and international artists, SAMA offers a rich and diverse array of exhibitions.

Each year, the museum hosts approximately thirty to forty exhibitions, attracting about 81,000 visitors annually. These exhibitions are designed to evoke interest, understanding, and appreciation of American art, fostering a deeper connection between the artworks and the community.

SAMA’s commitment to education is evident in its award-winning programs. Among its most impactful initiatives is the Artist-in-Residence (AIR) program, which plays a crucial role in integrating art into the educational experiences of students across the region.

Nurturing Creativity and Collaboration

The AIR program provides an opportunity for students to engage directly with professional artists in a student-mentor dynamic that emphasizes mutual involvement in the creative process. The interaction fosters a deeper understanding of artistic disciplines and nurtures creativity among young learners. The program is designed to offer in-depth learning experiences for core groups of students while also reaching the broader student population, teachers, arts groups, and the community at large.

The AIR packages typically include a 5-day to 20-day school residency by a professional visual or performing artist. SAMA manages the administrative aspects, including scheduling, financial management, planning, and evaluation, ensuring a smooth and effective implementation of the program.

The impact of the AIR program extends beyond the creative development of students. It also provides valuable opportunities for educators and the community to engage with the arts, to foster an environment of cultural appreciation and lifelong learning.

The program emphasizes various artistic disciplines, including abstract/non-objective art, decorative arts, landscape, photography, portraiture, sculpture, and still life, ensuring a comprehensive and enriching educational experience.

Colcom Foundation’s generous $25,000 donation to the AIR program ensured that even more students could be reached across the region. By supporting this initiative, Colcom Foundation honored Cordelia Scaife May’s vision of cultural preservation while investing in the artistic development of young minds.

Bridging Art and Academics

Complementing the AIR program is SAMA’s Arts-in-Education (AIE) initiative, which integrates interdisciplinary art lessons into K-12 education.

Through direct observation of works from SAMA’s education collection, students engage in lessons that emphasize creation, technique, history, critique, and aesthetics. The AIE program offers 20 to 25 art appreciation presentations by a museum educator over a week, with additional sessions available upon request.

The program provides students with opportunities to create and respond to art, understand the cultural and historical context of artworks, and develop critical thinking skills. Schools benefit from the inclusion of exhibition tours at the museum, adding a tangible dimension to their learning experience.

A Commitment to Equal Access

SAMA does not require an entry fee, which removes financial barriers and ensures that art and cultural experiences remain open and available to everyone in the communities it serves. This policy aligns with Colcom Foundation’s belief that art should be accessible to all, regardless of economic status.

“By ensuring free admission, SAMA opens doors that may otherwise remain closed, welcoming everyone to explore, learn and find inspiration through art,” expressed a Colcom Foundation representative. 

As SAMA continues to support artistic excellence, financial backing from organizations like Colcom Foundation is vital to ensure that the region’s rich cultural heritage is preserved and passed down to future generations, inspiring creativity and fostering a deeper appreciation for the arts.

Cordelia Scaife May’s legacy of cultural preservation continues through her Foundation’s generous contribution to SAMA’s Artist-in-Residence program and continuing support, ensuring that the next generation of artists and art lovers have the support they need to thrive. 

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