By John Burton
MIDDLETOWN – Nestled on Brookdale Community College’s Lincroft campus, volunteers, a handful of paid employees and its ever-loyal collection of “friends” – diligently and quietly – work to ensure the Monmouth Museum continues in its mission of highlighting arts, history and science.
They have been doing it for 50 years and that milestone is being celebrated this year.
Set back off the campus’ main roadway in an approximately 8,000 square-foot building, the facility has been “an important community resource,” said Julia Fiorino, the facility’s public relations coordinator.
Monmouth Museum is a not-for-profit, privately operated museum that relies on private donations and grants, and the fundraising efforts of its loyal friends, who Avis Anderson, the museum’s executive director, calls “a core group of women dedicated to the museum.” The friends group was formed about 25 years ago and helps provide funding for the facility’s $500,000 annual operating budget.
The funds mean the museum can continue to provide exhibits that highlight the work of emerging artists, offer instructions in history or science, and – very often – hands-on opportunities for young visitors to learn and be entertained.
“Everything is fun,” said Taphy Harcsar, a former museum board member and current friend. She is co-chairing the museum’s 50th anniversary gala to be held Oct. 19 at the Navesink Country Club in Middletown.
“It was founded as a museum of ideas,” Anderson said. Planned without a permanent collection, exhibits change regularly to retain its sense of vibrancy and excitement.
The museum was founded five decades ago as the result of research done
by members of the Junior League of Monmouth County. They found “there was a dire need for a cultural institution in Monmouth County,” Anderson said.
The Junior League provided volunteers and a financial commitment, giving the proposed museum its first monetary pledge, a $10,000 grant.
The museum’s first location was on the Asbury Park boardwalk in the former Spell of the Sea storefront, a location that eventually became a Howard Johnson’s restaurant and is now home to McLoone’s Asbury Grille. The Monmouth Museum then moved to Red Bank, first to a White Street location and then to a space in the Mini Mall on the corner of Broad and Monmouth streets.
The museum’s board eventually struck a deal with Brookdale Community College that permitted the museum to use the property, while the museum paid for building construction.
The facility has grown with new additions over the years. It constructed the Dorothy V. Morehouse WonderWing, with its educational exhibit about the sea and sea life intended for the youngest visitors, in 1997. The Becker Children’s Wing, added in 1988, presents exhibits emphasizing a hands-on educational component for school-age children. Currently the children’s wing is hosting “Ancients to Astronauts: How We Communicate.”
Also on display in the museum through Aug. 11 is “America Hits The Road: A Cultural History of the Road Trip,” featuring elements of a distinctly American vacation. Visitors to the exhibit are asked to write and submit details of their favorite road excursion.
In September there will be an exhibit highlighting the work of the Society of Gilders to recognize the museum’s golden anniversary. The exhibit will highlight fine and decorative art objects in gold and metal leaf.
Plans are in the works for next spring’s “What’s So Funny?” with the museum holding an open call for artists to present humorous works.
Over the course of a year the museum gets more than 35,000 visitors, many students from schools across Monmouth and Ocean counties. The hope is that the institution has instilled an appreciation for the museum that will carry to future generations. That was the case for Harcsar. “My children were raised here,” she said, and now her grandchildren regularly visit.
Museum officials would like nothing better than to increase the number of people who visit so they can learn and enjoy what the facility has to offer.
“We don’t get much drive-by traffic,” Anderson said. “But, everyday someone says ‘I didn’t know you were here’ … It’s good, because we now have a person who will hopefully return and tell others.”
The museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays. Admission is $7 per person, with Brookdale students and staff, with valid ID, and children under 2 admitted free.
The 50th Anniversary Circle of Gold Gala in October will feature the music of Tim McLoone and the Shirleys and unique auction items. Guests are being encouraged to wear gold that evening. Additional information about the gala, sponsorship opportunities and tickets is available by calling Mary Suszkowski at 732-747-2266, Ext. 5 or emailing to firstname.lastname@example.org.