Circle of generous friends to help Vero Beach art museum

VERO BEACH — A new group of like-minded people putting their money together to accomplish great things is evolving in Vero Beach.

This year, Circle of Friends – philanthropic women who care about the arts and humanities – is looking for 100 women to complete their circle.

Their mission is to ensure that the educational outreach programs at the Vero Beach Museum of Art are infused with sufficient resources.

Currently, there are 17 educational programs serving a wide range of demographics, including the Alzheimer and Parkinson Association of Indian River County, the Dasie Bridgewater Hope Center, the Drug Abuse Treatment Association, and the Gifford Youth Activity Center.

When Florida cut the arts from the state budget last year, “all public financing disappeared,” said Lyn Adams, president of Friends of the Museum, a fundraising arm of the museum, and a steering committee member of the circle.

To meet the museum’s immediate need, the Friends of the Museum group formed a giving circle comprising only women. Similar to the mechanism in Vero’s Impact 100 group, they each wrote a check and collectively decided which program would benefit.

In the circle’s inaugural year, the Artist in the School program was given $15,250. The program allows professional artists to work with teachers and students, customizing tours of the museum to complement the academic curriculum.

The program underwrites the cost of bus transportation for about 700 students from eight schools and includes follow- up visits from the artist.

Most of the children had never visited the museum before participating in the outreach program.

This year, the Circle of Friends wants to raise $25,000. They need 100 women to each write a check for $250.

The circle is open to the public and, unlike the Friends of the Museum committee, does not require volunteer hours.

But in the current economy with unemployment rates hitting record highs, shouldn’t charitable giving focus on the food, shelter and safety of our most vulnerable sectors?

“We feed people too,” said Adams, who maintains that art feeds the soul, expands the mind and cultivates certain sensibilities.

“Maslow’s hierarchy of needs can be taken care of pretty simply in a town like this,” Adams said regarding the level of generosity she has encountered in Vero Beach.

“We tend to think this is not a luxury. It’s a way of binding the community together – not just a slice for special people,” Adams added. “There is no barrier, economic or otherwise, to experience the visual arts through the museum. This is not an elitist type of institution.”

There are about 17,000 museums in the United States. Only 775 are accredited by the American Association of Museums. That accreditation exemplifies the quality of the collections, exhibits, education and outreach programs at the Vero Beach Museum of Art.

“The museum is one of the reasons we fell in love with Vero Beach,” said Diane Wilhelm, co-chair of the Circle of Friends steering committee.

Originally from Chicago, Wilhelm is working with Co-chair Margaret Goembel to meet this year’s circle’s $25,000 goal.

According to Wilhelm, all the money raised in the circle goes directly to the chosen outreach program.

There are no operating costs or overhead expenses associated with the Circle of Friends.

Currently, there are 37 women who have joined and another dozen or so women have committed to donating after Jan. 1.

If each of these 50 women brings one friend into the circle, they can raise the money needed.

It was with a similar vision and grass roots tenacity that the Vero Beach Museum of Art was built 25 years ago.

A partnership between the Alliance for the Arts and the Vero Beach Art Club raised $2.5 million from private sources. The museum opened its doors debt-free on Jan. 31, 1986.

On Jan.12 at 9:30 a.m., the Circle of Friends will host its next meeting at the museum. At that meeting, the circle will pare down the list of 17 outreach programs for financial consideration to six.

Then in February and March, the committee will make site visits to the selected programs.

Finally, at the April meeting, the circle will choose “one or possibly two [programs], depending on the amount of money that was raised,” said Wilhelm.

“It’s a wonderful program,” said Robyn Orzel, the museum’s director of development, who works to ensure that none of the outreach programs is cut despite the economic climate. “I’m so proud and pleased we are the beneficiary of these women’s efforts.”

According to Orzel, the museum’s educational programs are almost entirely privately funded.

Although the museum receives occasional grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, an independent agency of the federal government, the grants are generally small and help supplement the programs.

The programs include the annual exhibit of work by talented young artists from the Drug Abuse Treatment Association, a show that many found insightful, cathartic and hauntingly memorable.

Another partnership is with the Alzheimer and Parkinson Association of Indian River County, and provides an opportunity for caregivers and patients to participate in hands-on gallery discussions and to make their own art.

“It’s a small program with a huge, dramatic impact,” said Adams. The program may help increase verbal communication in patients while providing a creative outlet. “The circle is a way of showing what the museum is doing,” said Wilhelm.

For more information about the Circle of Friends, call Robyn Orzel at (772) 231-0707 ext. 106.

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