Culture Club: Embracing a New Miller Art Museum

by Elizabeth Meissner-Gigstead, Executive Director


Since accepting the challenge of leading the Miller Art Museum —Door County’s first year-round arts institution and the peninsula’s only fine art museum — in December of 2014, I have had the great privilege to learn directly from the community that has built this museum into what it is today: our incredible cadre of volunteers, longtime donors and board members, our steadfast patrons, talented staff (both museum and Door County Library), students, artists, teachers, and business and community partners.

It has been a year of listening and absorbing; a year of contemplation and reflection; a year of learning and a year of visioning.

Patron participating in an ekphrasis workshop at the museum. Submitted.

Patron participating in an ekphrasis workshop at the museum. Submitted.

“Words That Mean a Lot” was the title of an article written by American Alliance of Museums’ (AAM) President and CEO Laura L. Lott in the May/June 2016 issue of Museum, a bi-monthly magazine published by the organization for its members. True to its title, Lott’s words struck a chord with me:

“The word ‘museum’ means something; being a museum carries great prestige and credibility. A recent study by Reach Advisors showed museums are the most trusted source of information in America. But with that trust comes great responsibility: to serve your community, to care for your collection, to include many viewpoints and to be accessible to everyone.”

As I continue to reflect on these words, I am reminded of the responsibilities of our museum and all it has accomplished — the memorable programs, growth of a stunning permanent collection, award-winning and wide-ranging scope of exhibitions, and the plethora of educational opportunities provided to our community in its 41-year history — and what new challenges we might face. We continue to honor our past, the sedulous Gerhard CF Miller, and plan for the future.

A new era for the Miller Art Museum is emerging. New leadership is developing on a multitude of levels throughout the organization, bringing to light new ideas, questions and approaches to “business as usual.” Furthermore, we have also bid our formal farewells to a number of steadfast and beloved leaders and volunteers who have served the museum for 20 and 30-plus years. Our constituency is broad, comprised of Traditionalists (born 1927 – 1945), Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Generation X’ers (born 1965-1979) and Millennials (born 1980-2000).

What does your Miller Art Museum look like in the next five years? How do we create an inviting and engaging experience for both longstanding, traditional patrons and younger tech and social media savvy audiences? How about the accessibility of a growing permanent collection, scope of our exhibitions and programs with consideration to an ever-increasing self-directed, experiential learning environment?

The museum’s board of directors met earlier this spring for a daylong planning retreat to undertake the strategic planning process, which, for anyone who has been a part of a successful retreat with other organizations, was incredibly productive and successful both professionally and personally. It is an integral activity for any organization and one that I so strongly believe will help our museum reach new heights. We are eager to share the formal public document, which will be forthcoming! This is, though, an incredibly exciting step for our institution.

Selections from the permanent collection on view in the main gallery of the museum. Submitted.

Selections from the permanent collection on view in the main gallery of the museum. Submitted.

Fundamental to our mission is the care of our 900-plus-piece collection of paintings from 19th century to present. We are experiencing unprecedented growth of the collection; in 2015, we acquired a total of 55 works, half of which can currently be viewed on the Ruth Morton Miller Mezzanine (second level) of the museum. Significant acquisitions include a small collection of 13 works by the late Door County painter Austin Fraser (1911-2006), two significant works by Lester W. Bentley (1908-1972), most famous for his portraits of President Dwight D. Eisenhower and U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William O. Douglas, a number of Miller’s works from his early years as well as a small collection of serigraphs from the late Albert F. Quinlan.

The museum’s growing permanent collection encapsulates all that we are and tells the story about our art community. As we currently see this transforming before our very eyes, I have never had such a great responsibility nor have I ever been more optimistic or excited about our work, knowing the crucial role the Miller Art Museum has played in the development of Door County as an arts mecca and thinking about the impact our museum will have in the years to come.

What does your Miller Art Museum mean to you?

I close with the words of Lott, who concludes by writing: “A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”

Each and every museum tells a story. I invite you to learn more about yours and to share with me what we mean to you. Stop in for a visit! We’d love to find you on board our ship.


The museum is located in the Sturgeon Bay Library, 107 S. 4th Ave., and is open Monday 10 am – 8 pm, Tuesday through Saturday 10am – 5pm; admission is free and the facility is fully accessible. For more information, call 920.746.0707 or 920.743.6578, or visit

Peninsula Arts and Humanities Alliance, Inc., which contributes Culture Club throughout the summer season, is a coalition of nonprofit organizations whose purpose is to enhance, promote and advocate the arts, humanities and natural sciences in Door County.

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