Picture the city of Jacksonville where every wall is a canvas and every corner is a conduit for conversations centered on diversity and inclusion. Picture an exchange of positive ideas between young and old, sparked by a painting reproduced and glued to the side of a building. Picture a celebration of the diverse and rich history of the Bold City. For Cummer Museum of Arts & Gardens director, Hope McMath, this vision of Jacksonville is accessible and thanks to her tireless efforts, she is well underway towards including all of Jacksonville into the picture of this new, vibrant reality.
“I believe strongly that the arts can provide a bridge between people, experiences and communities,” McMath says. “A great work of art can transform the way someone sees the world around them and build understanding.” For the Jacksonville native, understanding the world around us begins locally and flourishes outward, which is why so many of her efforts have focused on making art accessible to the broadest audience possible here along the St. John’s River. McMath believes the richness of Jacksonville is not told through a single narrative, which is why she and her team invest time and energy into listening to a wide range of voices, each carrying an individual perspective.
Museums are places that are simultaneously communal and personal. They are organizations of learning, where people take in new information and digest it according to their own life experience. In 2015, McMath engaged the community in much needed conversation about equality and justice through a series of exhibitions. Under her leadership, the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens displayed the Whitfield Lovell: Deep River exhibit, which examined African American life from the Civil War to civil rights era. Many of the elements of the exhibit tied back to Jacksonville, and the exhibition brought people together in conversation about our community and race relations. A subsequent exhibit, the Newcomb Pottery Enterprise, focused on women, art and social change, required poignant consideration be taken when discussing gender roles and equality.
While serious on overtone, the process and discussion around an exhibition can also be jovial and spirited. Over a four-day period in mid-November, she was alongside an eager group of volunteers plastering 40 reproductions of the museum’s collection on walls across Jacksonville. Described by McMath as, “a guerrilla way to raise awareness surrounding street art and public art,” the Jax Outings project successfully made the museum’s collection into the entire city’s collection. The enthusiasm and buzz that surrounded the larger than life replications infused Jacksonville with a sense of vitality and lightness, which are merely a mirror of the architect, herself.
Yet, McMath has very little time to relish in accolade. She is always moving forward and constantly voicing the future hope of the city. “We are excited about a year-long initiative to lift up the works of artists and aspirations of James Weldon and J. Rosamond Johnson,” she says. “I am very much interested in the higher calling of bettering our society through engaging deeply in art and the beauty of the natural world.” For McMath, when art is accessible, meaning that it is available and relevant to the broadest audiences possible, a more loving, beautiful and inclusive city is inevitable.