With the completion of the Christian A. Johnson Memorial Building and the Christian A. Johnson Gallery in 1968, the College solidified its plan to build an art collection. Professor of Studio Art David Bumbeck was charged with directing the Gallery at that time, and he oversaw the first growth of the collection, making significant acquisitions of prints and nineteenth-century sculpture.
Bumbeck also oversaw the formation of the Friends of the Art Museum, a group of museum supporters that consisted of Middlebury alumni, local arts benefactors, and others associated with the College. The Friends first accepted membership in 1969, and to this day their membership dues continue to help underwrite the Museum’s education and acquisition programs.
In 1985, as plans to build a 100,000 square foot Center for the Arts began to coalesce, the College hired Richard Saunders to be the full-time director of the Gallery. During his first five years at Middlebury, Saunders hired a registrar and a preparator, established a Collections Committee to oversee the Gallery’s acquisitions program, and played an important role in defining space within the plans for a new Center for the Arts to house a new museum.
In 1992 the Johnson Gallery was renamed The Middlebury College Museum of Art and took up residence in the completed Center for the Arts, a multi-use facility designed by the New York architectural firm of Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer. Growth in the areas of antiquities, European and American painting, sculpture, photography, and prints burgeoned.
In 1996 the Museum hired a Curator of Education and inaugurated an education program designed to serve as a resource for local and regional K–12 school groups. Each year—with the help of nearly twenty volunteer student docents as well as generous funding from the Arthur and Helen Baer Foundation and the Middlebury College Friends of the Art Museum—the program brings nearly one thousand school children to the Museum for guided and self-guided tours.
In 2003 the Museum added a Curator of Asian Art to organize its growing Asian art collection, and in the fall of 2005 it opened the Robert F. Reiff Gallery of Asian Art named after former history of art professor Robert Reiff and funded in large part by Barbara P. and Robert P. ’64 Youngman.
Today the Museum, accredited in 2005 by the American Association of Museums, remains in the newly renamed Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts where it continues to fill its 6,000 square feet of gallery space with five to six premiere loan exhibits each year as well as highlights from among the more than 2,500 works in its permanent collection. In addition, the staff, which has expanded to include eight full-time and ten part-time employees, orchestrates between twelve and fifteen events—lectures, gallery talks, and symposiums—to complement the Museum’s exhibition schedule.