How much difference can one person make? Sinclair Hitchings hopes it's a substantial one when it comes to his "Art in Boston" project, which he began in 2006.

This is a town in which our major museums, universities, and Pulitzer Prize-winning critics give short shrift to art made here. An example: the Institute of Contemporary Art has almost completely ignored Boston art since its last Foster Prize exhibit for talented locals in 2010 — and the next edition of the "biennial" show is scheduled to arrive nearly a year late. Instead of fostering a creative community, our leaders often stunt how far most locals can go here.

"Art in Boston" is part collection of Boston art, part research library. The goal: study, exhibit, publish, and promote local artists. Hitchings dreams of it evolving into its own "teaching museum." The fledgling collection is having its public debut at Maud Morgan Arts.

"There is a lot of good work being made in Boston," Hitchings insists. Building a collection is a way to make his point. "People are really only going to be able to get my message by seeing the art."

Hitchings began "Art in Boston" the year following his retirement from leading the Boston Public Library's print department for four decades, building its collection and a $10 million endowment. "The most ambitious of the projects was working with contemporary Boston artists," Hitchings says. "Eventually I built up a collection of more than 1000 Boston artists featuring more than 10,000 works on paper. . . . There is really no collection like it."

"I myself don't think of Boston as a provincial town," he says. "I think it is an academic town. And it's a funny town, because there's a lot of wealth here. . . . The money is here, but the imprimatur isn't here, the patronage isn't here."

Hitchings says, "There needs to be additional energy and some additional money in this town devoted to Boston artists."

So he's buying Boston art for the Cate and Sinclair Hitchings Collection, so far spending "out of my pocket." Plus, he has landed some gifts. The Maud Morgan show features works by Ken Beck, David Akiba, Andy Zimmermann, Rob Moore, Lois Tarlow, Jane Akiba, Maud Morgan Arts director Catherine Kernan, and others.

It's a modest beginning. But it used to be that when the art world felt vital work was being ignored, new museums got founded. Maybe Hitchings's idea arrives at a propitious time.


"ART IN BOSTON" :: Maud Morgan Arts, 20 Sacramento St, Cambridge :: January 14–March 1 :: Reception January 27 from 3 pm to 5 pm :: 617.547.1647 or 

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Museums, universities, art features
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