Museum Archives, press releases, museum history

Dateline Cleveland

Submitted by Leslie Cade on

Cleveland Museum of Art press releases dating from January 1950 through early March 2004 have been digitized by the museum archives and are now available online. The collection, documenting acquisitions, lectures, exhibitions, and other museum events, can be viewed on the Internet Archive at: Over forty-five hundred press releases can be browsed by topic and searched by keyword or date by searching within the collection.

In the 1950s cultural institutions tapped into the renewed interest in the arts, music and literature that accompanied the post-war increase in leisure time. Newspapers were the information medium of the day. In addition to news they featured society and gossip columns and sections on entertainment, sports, business and travel, and advertisements. The museum announced lectures, exhibitions, films, art acquisitions, special events, and the much beloved annual May Show through press releases issued to media outlets. Well into the late 1960s an average of 100 press releases a month were sent to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Cleveland Press, and other local papers.

The museum offered a wide variety of lectures - from scholarly talks on art and antiquities from such far flung places as Egypt and Africa, to lectures related to current exhibitions, buying art and antiques, and more mundane topics including arranging living room furniture. In 1952 museum director William Milliken gave the lecture “Your House and Its Art” as a part of the “Homes and Gardens” series. A four part education course on photographing flower gardens was offered in May of that year. Attendees met at museum member’s gardens. Often a tea or lunch would be part of an event including the lecture by Margaret Fairbanks on April 12, 1955 with lunch at the very elegant Wade Park Manor. 

Frequently the press releases of that era included names and addresses of youngsters attending art classes, and names and address of the members of the Junior Council (later to become the Womens Council), neither of which would happen today. The writing style was more conversational and familiar, at times even folksy. As life in the 1970s and 1980s changed dramatically, so did the press releases which mostly listed events. By the 1990s releases about exhibitions had a more scholarly tone. There were fewer lectures and more formal attention was given to exhibitions and film. 

Press releases provide a glimpse into how society and the museum have changed. Releases posted to the museum web site continue to inform the public about exhibitions and programs. But now the museum also communicates through social media, satisfying the need for information in 140 characters or less.