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Worcester Art Museum — A Real Merger

While everyone is thinking about the possible merger between the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art, a real merger of museums was announced on Friday: the Worcester Art Museum and the Higgins Armory Museum.

St.GeorgeYou may know little about the Higgins, but it claims to be the only U.S. museum devoted solely to armor, with “4000 pieces in all, includ[ing] major examples of arms and armor from medieval and Renaissance Europe, Ancient Greece and Rome, Africa, the Middle East, India, and Japan.” It was founded by John Woodman Higgins, “a prominent Worcester industrialist during the early 1900s, [who] spent a lifetime building his collection. In 1929 he began construction of a five-story building to house it, and in 1931 the John Woodman Higgins Armory opened its doors to the public.”

Unfortunately, it was not earning its keep and the Higgins has been running a deficit. It chose at first to draw down money from its endowment, but that did not solve the problem. Trustees looked around and decided to talk to the Worcester Art Museum about transferring the collection to it. Discussions have been taking place for more than a year, the vote took place last fall. As a result, after the Higgins closes in December, most of its collections will move to the Worcester Art Museum. More details can be found here, on the Higgins’s website.

Higgins1580This makes perfect sense for Worcester, where director Matthias Waschek has been laboring hard to revive the museum, with some successes. Last year, he succcessfully raised money to reopen its historic entrance and provide free admission during the summer months. He recently hired a director of audience engagement (?) and won money from the Mellon Foundation to hire a curator of American art. However, a recent restructing of staff led to a layoff of six people — hard to tell from the outside whether those positions were needed, or not, but for the people involved, it was unhappy.

Waschek sees the Higgins collection as an opportunity to attract more families to the museum. The Higgins, according to the Boston Globe, actually attracted more visitors last year than Worcester — 60,000 versus 46,000 — largely because of the family interest.

I applaud the trustees of the Higgins for finding a viable solution that keeps its collection in the public domain, and transferring, too, the remaining endowment, which the Globe put at nearly $3 million. Let’s see what Waschek does with it — starting next year.

Photo Credits: Courtesy of the Higgins Armory Museum

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