When Andrew W. Mellon wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1936 to offer his gift of paintings and sculpture for a new museum in Washington, DC, that he would build and finance with his own funds, he stipulated that the museum not bear his name. Mellon believed that it should be a truly national institution with no single individual’s name but with a name that identified it as a museum for and of the American people. This emphasis on the national character of the National Gallery of Art is at the very heart of the vision that continues to guide the museum today. This past year, Americans have endured unimaginable loss and hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It has also been a year that has witnessed the great resilience of the American people. President Roosevelt’s words from 1941, marking the opening of the National Gallery, resonate profoundly at this moment when hope and renewal are on the horizon. “The dedication of this gallery to a living past and a greater and more richly living future is the measure of the earnestness of our intention that the freedom of the human spirit shall go on too.”
As an institution “Of the Nation and for the People,” the National Gallery of Art has the responsibility and privilege to serve our country by welcoming all people to explore and experience art, creativity, and our shared humanity. As stewards of Andrew Mellon’s long-ranging vision, the trustees and I, along with Director Kaywin Feldman and the staff, are committed to reflecting and serving the nation in all its diversity while continuing to operate a financially sustainable institution. We are dedicated to expanding the reach of the National Gallery and sharing its educational resources in new ways so that all Americans can engage with the nation’s art collection. This work is only possible because of the indissoluble public-private partnership between the federal government and private citizens that sustains this remarkable institution. The trustees and staff join me in expressing our sincere gratitude to the President and the Congress of the United States for their unwavering support of the National Gallery.
The vital support of the federal government continues to be complemented by the private patronage of citizens whose gifts fund essential programs and activities, from collecting and exhibiting in ways that reflect our nation and its histories, to preserving the collections for future generations, delivering compelling public programs and events, engaging digital experiences, and groundbreaking scholarship. We are so grateful to the National Gallery’s steadfast members and donors whose generous gifts enable the museum to extend its reach to broader audiences—the significance of which has become even more evident in the past year. In the second half of fiscal year 2020, the National Gallery successfully transitioned to all virtual programming, significantly expanding its reach. People across the institution, including the tireless security officers, ensured that the Sculpture Garden was the first space to reopen on the National Mall during the pandemic, followed by the Ground Floor galleries of the West Building a month later. The phased approach to reopening the National Gallery’s campus prioritized safety first, as well as the museum’s crucial mission to serve the public. My fellow trustees join me in thanking Kaywin and all the dedicated staff of the National Gallery for approaching the uncertainty of the past year with careful planning and commendable agility.
I am also grateful to my fellow trustees and the Trustees’ Council for their unfaltering support and wisdom. The board was recently joined in their work by educator and author Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, who founded the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, the Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen Foundation, and the Silicon Valley Social Venture Fund. I am thrilled that Laura has agreed to serve as a trustee of the nation’s art museum. On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I welcome our newest member and look forward to working with her to plan for the museum’s future.
Having reflected a great deal during the pandemic about what might continue, what might be best left behind, and what should be carried into the future, I can tell you firsthand the National Gallery’s sights are set firmly on the horizon, and our best days are in front of us. We look forward to fostering meaningful encounters with the nation’s art collection and expanding opportunities to connect the resources of the National Gallery to an even wider national and international audience in the years ahead. Thank you for joining us in this endeavor.
Mitchell P. Rales