Under the guidance of Max Barton, executive director of the Canton Museum of Art since September 2014, the museum has steadily increased its public profile through programming designed to attract new visitors from all corners of the community and beyond.
“There’s a greater focus on the content and style of our exhibitions and exposing more people to different kinds of American artwork while still keeping to what traditional museum-goers want to see,” Barton said. “It’s much more than just, ‘Put an exhibition in the galleries and they will come.’ ”
Barton was director of marketing and communications at the museum for two years before being chosen to follow retiring executive director M.J. Albacete.
Along with the museum’s changing exhibitions, “there are opportunities for a speaker series, curatorial talks,” said Barton. “Combining our openings with First Fridays has been very successful. People can come to a major exhibition opening, then venture out downtown.”
Museum admission is free on First Fridays and Thursdays, which brings further accessibility. “We want to make the museum a gathering place, where people can have a transformative experience, whether its a 5-year-old or a 55-year-old. Our job is to reach people at different points in their lives,” Barton said.
“One of the most enjoyable parts of my job is going out into the galleries and seeing kids on tours and families on free days, knowing they’re enjoying and learning.”
Barton speaks with understandable pride about the museum’s permanent collection, which includes works by Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Andrew Wyeth, Thomas Hart Benton, John Singer Sargent, Childe Hassam, Andy Warhol, Viktor Schreckengost, M.C. Escher and many others. These were showcased in an innovative exhibition earlier this year, titled “In the Parisian Salon.”
“The collection here is something everybody should be very proud of. People seek out the artists that are in it,” Barton said. He shared the story of a 92-year-old woman from New Zealand who was visiting her grandson in Wooster. “She Googled all the museums in the area that would have watercolor paintings by Andrew Wyeth, who she adores. She came into the museum one day and asked to see the Wyeth lighthouse (titled ‘Window Light’). I took her back to see it (in storage), and she burst into tears. She loved it.”
Earlier this year, a state-of-the-art storage system was installed at the museum for protection of the collection. Its cost of nearly $300,000 was paid for by a number of local foundations. “It’s part of our duty to protect the collection for future generations,” he said. “It’s part of our identity. It’s valuable.
“Ultimately, we are just caretakers of the artwork,” Barton said. “The artwork belongs to Canton.”
What is your favorite local restaurant?
The best meal I’ve every had … anywhere … was at Vinoteca Wine Bar on Hills and Dales. We celebrated the birthdays of my wife, Nancy, and a dear friend there, and it was the most amazing sea bass, soup, salad, dessert and everything. It’s a great setting for a fun, private celebration.
What does your favorite date night consist of?
Nancy and I have our usual date night on Fridays, so it’s normally at 91 in Washington Square or Lucia’s Steak House … same time, same tables. Sometimes on our own, sometimes with close friends joining in. Then, we usually make our way to The Barrel Room for a Woodford Reserve before calling it a night.
What is your favorite lunch spot?
For a quick break from the museum day, I love lunch at Table Six Kitchen + Bar. Bender’s Tavern is the choice downtown for a salad or lunch special.
Favorite place to see live music?
We love the intimacy and beauty of The Palace Theatre for a concert. An evening on the patio with live music at Gervasi is great—sit back with the wine and enjoy the summer breezes!
What is your favorite spot to shop locally?
I’m not much the shopper, but if I’m looking for a gift for Nancy, it’s usually Mainstream Boutique or Laura of Pembroke to find just the right thing. Flowers are coming from Paper Twigs or Cathy Cowgirl Flowers … both are so creative. I love that we now have Petitti’s Garden Center here, because I am the “garden guy,” and I love searching for new plants!
What is your favorite indoor activity?
Indoor and outdoor, spending time working with and feeding snacks to my rescued thoroughbred horse, Squeak, is always the best place to be. He’s stabled at Quatre Saisons Equine in Massillon, where he’s spoiled beyond belief. He’s 1,200 lbs. of big gray love!
What is the most memorable spot for you?
It’s where we built our house in northern Stark County in 2003. We designed it and situated it on a pond, and I designed the landscape alongside Rice’s Nursery. It’s a perfect place for birds and wildlife of all kinds. Our porch and deck in spring, summer and fall—it’s our happy place!