Museum of Fine Arts, Boston's 150th Anniversary Honors the Past and Reimagines the Future

Enhancing the Power of Art and Artists with a Renewed Focus on the Community in Which We Live

BOSTON (September 12, 2019)—The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), announced today a slate of initiatives for its 150th anniversary in 2020, driven by a deepened commitment to inclusion, community and generosity. The yearlong celebration aims to bring more people closer to art and the MFA—signaling aspirations for the Museum’s future.

“The MFA’s 150th anniversary is a moment to honor our past and, more critically, anticipate our future. The Museum was founded with a spirit of generosity and belief in the power of art and artists—values that remain among the pillars of today’s MFA,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “As we look ahead, we must also address the changing role of museums in society, amplifying our efforts toward becoming a truly inclusive institution and committing to a new sense of urgency in engaging with the issues of our time.”

A group of Boston’s civic leaders created the Museum in 1870 as a public place for discovery, the enjoyment of art and celebration of artists. Since then, the MFA has grown to house a global collection, which will be highlighted during the 150th anniversary year in exhibitions ranging from Ancient Nubia Now, shining a light on the powerful, yet historically misinterpreted kingdoms on the Nile, to the Weng Family Collection of Chinese Painting: Family and Friends, featuring works by some of the greatest masters from the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, to Lucian Freud: The Self-Portraits, organized in partnership with the Royal Academy of Arts in London. In its 150th year, the Museum will also forge deeper connections with the local community, launching a free first-year membership program—an invitation to everyone to make the MFA their own. Throughout 2020, the Museum will engage community members and local artists as co-creators on various opportunities for convening and celebration, from a teen-curated exhibition of 20th-century art by artists of color from the Americas to a community mural project—initiatives that lay foundations for future ambitions.

The 150th Anniversary Celebration is sponsored by Bank of America.

Free Memberships for Community Members and Artists

The MFA will introduce a variety of membership initiatives during its anniversary year, in an effort to invite and engage a wide range of audiences to build deeper relationships with the Museum:

  • Signup opportunities for free first-year memberships will be offered to visitors at 11 annual community celebrations and three seasonal MFA Late Nites taking place in 2020. These memberships will allow access to the Museum for a full year. 
  • The MFA will inaugurate an ongoing program of lifetime admission benefits for all living artists represented in its collection, as well as gift one-year memberships to artists who partner with the Museum on exhibitions, programs and events during the anniversary year.
  • Additional benefits will be offered throughout the year to existing members in appreciation of their ongoing support—such as allowing them to bring more friends and family to the MFA—further empowering these longtime supporters as ambassadors for the Museum in their own communities.

For nearly two decades, the MFA’s annual community celebrations—expanded in the fall of 2019 to include Latinx Heritage Night and Indigenous Peoples’ Day—have featured activities and performances that represent the art, history and global influences throughout Greater Boston. All of the community celebrations, as well as the MFA Late Nites—seasonal after-hours celebrations introduced in the fall of 2017—are co-created with valued community partners, artists and performers, highlighting external perspectives and local expertise. The free first-year membership initiative will invite all attendees of these popular events to return to the MFA often and with others, with the goal of fostering a sense of belonging at the Museum year-round. The full schedule of signup opportunities in 2020 includes:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day, January 20, 2020
  • Lunar New Year Celebration, February 1, 2020
  • Nowruz, March 18, 2020
  • MFA Late Nites, April 3, 2020
  • Memorial Day, May 25, 2020
  • Juneteenth, June 17, 2020
  • MFA Late Nites, June 2020
  • Highland Street Foundation Free Fun Friday, Summer 2020
  • ASL Night, September 2020
  • Latinx Heritage Night, September 2020
  • Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 12, 2020
  • MFA Late Nites, October 2020
  • Diwali, November 2020
  • Hanukkah, December 2020

More Celebrations

There will be other occasions to celebrate the MFA’s 150th anniversary in 2020:

  • The Museum will mark the actual anniversary day of the signing of the Act of Incorporation that founded the MFA in 1870 on February 4. Details will be announced in early 2020.
  • A summertime block party will enliven the MFA’s outdoor spaces with performances by local artists, art-making activities, food and beverages. The family-friendly event will also provide an opportunity to enjoy a new interactive play space, located on the Museum’s campus and designed to encourage curiosity among visitors of all ages. The MFA will commission an artist to partner on the design; more information will be unveiled by the spring. 
  • In late 2020, the Museum will host a fundraiser with proceeds designated to support future diversity and inclusion efforts at the MFA.

Exhibitions and Gallery Reinstallations

The Museum’s exhibition program during its 150th year will focus on honoring a diverse range of artists and perspectives and highlighting untold narratives, as well as engaging the expertise and viewpoints of the Boston community:

  • Women Take the Floor will be on view in the MFA’s Art of the Americas Wing throughout 2020 and offer a revolutionary seven-gallery “takeover” of approximately 200 artworks by more than 100 women, advocating for diversity, inclusion and gender equity in museums, the art world and beyond. Marking the centennial of the women’s suffrage amendment in the U.S., the exhibition will celebrate well-known female pioneers and innovators while also emphasizing the work and stories of overlooked and underrepresented artists. Women Take the Floor will feature paintings, sculpture, jewelry, ceramics and furniture, as well as several rotations of textiles, prints and photographs throughout the 18-month run. To ensure that the exhibition represented a broad range of perspectives, the MFA convened a roundtable discussion with local women community leaders to provide feedback on the project. As a result, outside voices are a key feature of the exhibition’s central gallery, dedicated to portraits of women created by women. Porsha Olayiwola, the current poet laureate for the city of Boston, will write a new poem and perform it on video, and the local feminist collective The Cauldron has identified quotes from feminist voices, which will be featured in the entry space.
  • Opening in 2019 and continuing into early 2020, Ancient Nubia Now will re-examine the series of powerful kingdoms that flourished in the present-day Sudanese Nile Valley for almost 3,000 years between 2400 B.C.E. and 300 C.E. The exhibition will explore how existing narratives about Nubia have changed over time—influenced by new discoveries, ways of thinking and broadened perspectives—and how they resonate with contemporary audiences.
  • On Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 20), the MFA will open an exhibition of 20th-century art by artists of color from the Americas, curated by paid teen fellows from local organizations Becoming a Man (BAM) and The BASE, the Museum’s Teen Arts Council (TAC) and STEAM Team, and participants from the Bloomberg Arts Internship Boston program managed by EdVestors. The exhibition will be the culmination of the teen scholars’ mentorship under Layla Bermeo, the MFA’s Kristin and Roger Servison Associate Curator of Paintings, Art of the Americas, involving workshops for building curatorial skills such as research, label writing and gallery design.
  • In April, the Museum will open an exhibition celebrating the post-graffiti movement of 1980s New York City through the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and his peers, which will be accompanied by a community mural project led by local artists Rob “Problak” Gibbs and Rob Stull.
  • The opening of four reinstalled galleries for Dutch and Flemish art in the fall of 2020 will celebrate the launch of the Center of Netherlandish Art (CNA), an innovative center for scholarship housed at the MFA and the first resource of its kind in the U.S. The new thematic and interdisciplinary displays will feature masterworks by artists such as Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn, Peter Paul Rubens and Gerrit Dou alongside silver, Delft ceramics and other objects that represent the visual culture of the Netherlands in the 17th century.

More information about 2020 exhibitions will be forthcoming.

Conservation Center

In the summer of 2020, the MFA will open a state-of-the-art Conservation Center, strengthening the Museum’s commitment to the care and preservation of its collection at the highest level. The new 22,000-square-foot space will comprise six laboratories and feature advanced technology, completing a transformational 18-month renovation process that was supported by the largest fundraising effort for conservation in the Museum’s history. The Conservation Center’s open floor plan will foster a more interdisciplinary and collaborative approach among the MFA’s staff of more than 50 conservators, as well as increase their capacity to provide training for colleagues in the field and future museum professionals. A dedicated learning space for public programs and educational initiatives will invite visitors of all ages to engage with conservators and connect with art and science in new and dynamic ways.

New Perspectives on the Past and Looking to the Future

Throughout 2020, the MFA will highlight key moments from its history, engaging audiences on-site and on social media with untold or little-known stories centered on works of art from the collection. A self-guided tour of 15 objects—one from each decade since the Museum’s founding—will be available for visitors throughout the year. The tour will share the history of how staff and donors have worked together to build a global collection drawn from across cultures and time, fulfilling the vision of the MFA’s first president Martin Brimmer for the Museum to open its doors to art from all over the world. This fresh look at the MFA’s collection will provide new perspectives—for example, the key role that women such as Harriet White Bradbury and Saundra Lane have played in gifting important works of art and providing financial support for the Museum since its founding. The theme of “Women within Our History,” from artists to donors to collectors, will also be further explored and celebrated during Art in Bloom, the MFA’s annual festival of fine art and flowers, in April 2020.

Looking toward the future, the MFA will introduce a range of initiatives during its anniversary year that will make a lasting impact beyond 2020. In an effort to increase the diversity of perspectives represented in exhibitions and gallery displays, the Museum will launch the “Table of Voices,” a new program designed to involve community voices in the MFA’s interpretation program on a deeper level. The program will formalize interpretive strategies used for recent exhibitions and gallery reinstallations such as Gender Bending Fashion and the Arts of Islamic Cultures Gallery, which engaged community members and partner organizations in the decision-making processes. The “Table of Voices” will also feature a paid fellowship component that will create a pipeline for new talent to enter the rapidly expanding field of museum interpretation.

Over the past several years, the Museum has implemented a variety of systems to reduce its carbon footprint. In 2020, the MFA will further its evolution into a “green” museum, introducing new environmental initiatives aligned with the recommendations of Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission, a group of business, institutional and civic leaders throughout the city working to develop strategies for fighting climate change. These initiatives will demonstrate the MFA’s commitment to future generations and engagement with issues affecting today’s world.

About the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

One of the nation’s oldest art museums, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), was founded on February 4, 1870. The Museum opened its doors to the public on July 4, 1876—the nation’s centennial—at its original location in Copley Square. Over the next several decades, the MFA’s collection and visitation grew exponentially, and in 1909, the Museum moved to its current home on Huntington Avenue. Today, the MFA houses a global collection encompassing nearly 500,000 works of art, from ancient to contemporary, and welcomes approximately 1.2 million visitors each year to celebrate the human experience through art as well as innovative exhibitions and programs. In 2017, Matthew Teitelbaum, the 11th director in the Museum’s history, unveiled MFA 2020, a three-year Strategic Plan that articulated a forward-looking vision for the Museum to become an institution of the moment and more connected to the community. The spirit of collaboration and engagement at the core of MFA 2020 has been brought to life over the past three years through the implementation of more than 50 initiatives, the full slate of which will be realized during the Museum’s 150th anniversary year.

Open seven days a week, the MFA’s hours are Saturday through Tuesday, 10 am–5 pm; and Wednesday through Friday, 10 am–10 pm. Admission is free for MFA Members, University Members and youths age 17 and younger. Wednesday nights after 4 pm admission is by voluntary contribution (suggested donation $25) and is free to all visitors during Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Lunar New Year Celebration, Memorial Day, Free Fun Friday and Indigenous Peoples' Day. Admission (which includes one repeat visit within 10 days) is $25 for adults and $23 for seniors and students age 18 and older, and includes entry to all galleries and special exhibitions. The Museum’s mobile MFA Guide is available at ticket desks and the Sharf Visitor Center for $5, members; $6, non-members; and $4, youths. The Museum is closed on New Year’s Day, Patriots’ Day, Independence Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The MFA is located on the Avenue of the Arts at 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115. For more information, call 617.267.9300, visit mfa.org or follow the MFA on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.