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Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
A bronze sculpture, 1931, titled "Pony Express Rider" by Mahonri Young an art exhibit titled "American Dreams" at the BYU Museum of Art.

PROVO — Many university museums across the country have strong art collections, but what does it take to draw in a greater number of visitors and stand out?

It takes a museum that is unique in its approach and its aim toward art.

The Brigham Young Museum of Art is that kind of museum.

Many university museums display their art and draw visitors, but the BYU Museum of Art is an active institution and members of the museum staff challenge themselves to create educational and beautiful exhibitions.

The staff at the museum is "reaching out to the students on campus as well as the outside community," said Cheryll May, head curator.

Built in 1993, the museum of art has an outstanding collection. The primary difference between the museum and others is that this museum "develops themes and presentations around the permanent collection," said Rita Wright. Wright heads up the academic department at the museum.

"(The museum) also brings in many traveling exhibitions to supplement the permanent collection," she said.

Campbell Gray, director of the museum and head of the university's art history department, said, "The MOA is a living entity that needs to change. It does not stagnate."

Exhibits such as the "Etruscan Exhibition" from the Vatican Museum in Rome, the "Imperial Tombs of China," the "Masada/Dead Sea Scrolls Exhibit," the Maynard Dixon show, "Escape to Reality," the "Art of the Ancient Mediterranean World," many other minor exhibits, and the currently displayed "Beholding Salvation: Images of Christ" and "Paths to Impressionism" reveal just how much the MOA focuses on great exhibits.

"Exhibitions are the heart of the program," said May. Museum officials also actively work with other major museums such as the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to promote powerful shows to add to what is already owned by the MOA.

Another aim of the MOA is to serve the needs of the students on campus as well as the community, May said.

Having the largest university museum attendance in the country and more students attending the MOA than any other takes great effort.

The MOA staff has to work well with faculty to incorporate various curriculums: English, history, history of civilization and other branches of the humanities.

They actively help students by using them to work at the museum, thereby gaining experience and encouraging student interest in museum careers.

Much focus is also directed towards the outside community. Families, school groups and young couples go to the museum.

Special events are organized for families, designed to engage the community, to promote the appreciation of fine art with their exhibition program.

The museum philosophy is to incorporate the collection with outside sources and to create many exhibitions, to provide an educational as well as an aesthetic experience for all who attend, and to reach out to the university and the outside community, creating a greater understanding and appreciation for fine art.

"With the phenomenon of someone walking into a gallery, looking at works of art, the way the art is combined, and trying to figure out what is really going on, they will gain a deeper meaning of art and return to add new dimensions to their understanding," said May.

As the MOA staff looks forward to the future, they have exciting plans with exhibits and tours scheduled up to five years in advance.

For more and ongoing information, contact the Museum of Art at: www.moa.byu.edu

Ehren E. Clark is a freelance art critic with a master's degree in art history and criticism. E-mail him at [email protected].