With a ‘bit of kismet,’ Milton Art Museum comes back to life in Brockton
March 25, 2021 : The Boston Globe, by Diti Kohli
A dormant museum has blossomed back to life.
Hundreds of pieces from the Milton Art Museum — 270 works by the likes of Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir — were unexpectedly placed into storage in 2019. Now they’ve found a permanent home in a busy and beautiful corner of nearby Brockton.
“A little bit of kismet, and here we are,” said principal curator Arnie Danielson. “Almost serendipitous.”
The collection opened to the public in January with the help of a $25,000 grant and the efforts of Brockton Arts Inc. and the Milton Art Museum board of trustees. COVID-19 prevented any official opening celebrations. But the art has carved out a presence nonetheless, Danielson said, in some gallery space located beneath the brand-new artist residences at downtown Brockton’s Enso Flats.
The walls and glass cases of Enso Gallery are filled with lithographs, Asian art, and at least one 17th-century oil painting. Special programs and events will be ticketed in the future. But for now, everything can be viewed spontaneously and free of charge.
“The more people see it, the better off we are,” said Danielson, who is also president of Brockton Arts Inc.
The Milton Art Museum collection boasts sketches and etchings by Édouard Manet, Paul Cézanne, J.M.W. Turner, and James Abbott McNeill Whistler. There are lithographs from Warhol and Picasso. There’s an array of ancient furniture, décor, and masks from different eras in Chinese and Thai history. Oh, and some handmade washi dolls from Japan.
The city of Brockton has long enjoyed cultural amenities including Fuller Craft Museum and the Stacy Adams Cultural Arts Building. But a recent influx of housing and commercial investment has transformed the city’s downtown area, according to Mayor Robert Sullivan. And building upon that cultural sector can only make the area more appealing.
“To be able to have a world-class museum steps away from the main transit stop is awesome,” Sullivan said. “It’ll be there for Brocktonians and for commuters.”
Milton Art Museum hails from a very different era.
The story reaches beyond the mid-20th century to the wealthy Milton families who bought pricey pieces to adorn the bedrooms and offices of their estates. These “traders, bankers, and industrialists,” Danielson said, grew older and sought lives away from the city. “Their families moved away. Then they divested themselves of their art collections.”
Several donations came together in 1986 to formally create the Milton Art Museum, according to board chair Ellyn Moller. The collection resided at Cunningham Elementary School until moving to Massasoit Community College in 2003. There, it “was a wonderful resource,” a Massasoit spokesperson said in a statement.
Yet in spring 2019, the college shifted the works behind locked doors to create “additional student space” for studying and gathering. There are also plans to turn the museum’s old home into a student gallery, according to the spokesperson.
Just before the pandemic, Danielson, Moller, and the rest of the Milton Art Museum board teamed up to bring the collection back to light in Brockton. The group secured a MassDevelopment Creative Catalyst grant funded by the Barr Foundation, but the distribution was put on hold once the pandemic hit.
Meanwhile, state officials running the Conference Center at Massasoit threatened to remove the collection from storage space on its property by a strict summer deadline. That left Moller and Danielson scrambling to move Milton Art Museum to its new home. By June, the entire collection had landed in Brockton.
And Brockton is the perfect location, Moller said. The museum’s first chairman, William E. Beyer, lived and painted watercolor works in the City of Champions before his death in 2015.
“He’s smiling down knowing the museum is in his hometown,” Moller said.
Plans for the future include increased educational and senior programming, according to the museum’s board. Classical and jazz performances are scheduled at Enso Gallery for the summer. Art classes will soon take place in an adjacent room every Sunday.
But until gathering is possible again, the museum’s focus is bringing individual moments of joy to a community that suffered greatly over the past year. More than 400 Brockton residents have died from COVID-19, with the pandemic placing severe economic burdens on the city’s diverse, lower-income residents.
After all that trauma, looking at art can be an excellent way to move forward, Danielson said. “It can actually be quite transcendent.”
MILTON ART MUSEUM
Open 4-6 p.m. Mon.-Fri. Enso Flats Building, 50 Centre St., Brockton. facebook.com/MiltonArtMuseum