When Joyce Rose-Harris visited the Columbia Museum of Art for the first time, seeing the whimsical Antonio Salviati chandelier in a second floor gallery persuaded her to become a museum member on the spot.
It was sparkly, delicate and as fanciful as a towering stack of Alice in Wonderland teacups.
“I just wanted to come back,” Rose-Harris remembered thinking.
So began a love affair with the museum that now spans 18 years, countless visits and an increasing level of advocacy and involvement in the arts.
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Wednesday, Rose-Harris attended a White House ceremony hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama that honored the Columbia Museum of Art and nine other winners of the 2016 National Medal for Museum and Library Service.
The CMA was one of 10 recipients – five museums and five libraries – to win the award from the Institute of Museum and Library Service for its outreach and impact in the community.
It is the only art museum to receive it.
Community members like Rose-Harris were invited to share how their lives have been inspired by the winning cultural and educational institutions.
“I’m pretty doggone excited,” she said in an interview this week before leaving for Washington D.C.
Rose-Harris grew up in the working-class neighborhood of North Lawndale in Chicago. Her mother took her to visit museums around the city regularly, inspiring an early interest in art.
In her first year after moving to Columbia in 1997, Rose-Harris decided to visit the Columbia Museum of Art mainly because she was homesick. What she found was “a mini Art Institute of Chicago.” She has seen almost every major exhibit to come through the CMA since.
The museum has had a huge impact on Rose-Harris becoming a published poet as well.
Although she works for an international software company and has a degree in applied mathematics, Rose-Harris’ true passion is poetry, she said.
“But I was a closet poet. I was so shy.”
It wasn’t until she attended a free poetry initiative at the museum that she began to feel comfortable sharing her work.
Now, her poetry is included in “Home Is Where: An Anthology of African American Poets in the Carolinas,” the March/April 2015 issue of Jasper Magazine and Poetry on The COMET, a project of Columbia’s poet laureate Ed Madden.
“Joyce is an example of someone who lives and breathes the arts,” said Joelle Ryan-Cook, deputy director and director of external affairs for the museum. “She really cares about the community being a part of the museum. She’s always telling people, ‘You gotta come.’”
“The main thing I tell people is it’s not hoity-toity,” Rose-Harris said. “There are so many different types of artwork. The staff is so welcoming. There’s always something new to see. That’s why I go as often as I do.”
During her D.C. trip, Rose-Harris said she would try to squeeze in a trip to the National Gallery of Art. Mostly though, she was excited about sharing the museum’s honor and getting to meet Michelle Obama, she said.
“I will try to contain my tears of joy.”
Celebrate with CMA
As a thank you to the community, the Columbia Museum of Art is hosting a celebration of both the National Medal and its receipt of the 2016 South Carolina Governor’s Award for the Arts, known as the Verner Award, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at Boyd Plaza.
The free event will feature hands-on activities, gallery tours and scavenger hunts. At noon, Mayor Steve Benjamin, Sen. John E. Courson, and Richland County Councilman Torrey Rush will give remarks and the awards will be presented to the community. Admission to the museum will be free 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday.
After the ceremony, StoryCorps – a national nonprofit dedicated to recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of Americans – will visit the CMA to document stories from the community.