The Cayuga Museum of History and Art opened its doors on October 13, 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression. Times were uncertain, but the founding members’ tireless efforts over four years brought the idea of an art center in Auburn to reality. It was at a meeting of the Daubers’ Club on February 2, 1932 that the idea was presented, and with the formation of a Founder’s Group and the acquisition of a home in January 1935, growth was rapid. The Cayuga Museum is truly a civic project and a perfect example of what can be accomplished by the cooperation of groups and individuals with a shared aspiration.
The firm belief of the Founders that a museum must function as an integral part of community life set the pattern for a dynamic organization which became closely knit with every cultural activity in the city and county over the next eighty years. As an October 16, 1936 newspaper article states, “The formal opening of the Cayuga Museum of History and Art today is an event whose importance will be increasingly realized as the various departments get into full swing. When functioning properly, a museum is not a show place merely, but a work place and a recreational place. It offers not simply an opportunity to see and enjoy the finished productions of artists but also a chance to participate in the creation of beauty.”
The success of the Cayuga Museum was through Walter Long’s model of divisions, which split each activity and group into focus areas. Within the divisions of the Museum; Art, History, Childrens’, Industrial, Music and Dramatic, community organizations made up active groups that met in the Museum, held exhibitions, worked through the Museum office to build their organizations, yet did not lose their individuality as organizations.
While changes in society have prompted a shift in the way that communities interact with their museums, there is no doubt that any citizen of Auburn has fond memories of Walter Long and his Cayuga Museum of History and Art. As we embrace our eightieth year, we remember our past as a means of looking to the future, with a renewed emphasis on our community- but as Edith Osborne, first President of the Museum stated in 1937: “We cannot emphasize too strongly that to fulfill its much needed sphere in this community- it must have every citizen’s cooperation and support.”
Visit Your Museum is an exploration of the clubs and organizations that shaped our institution and permanent collection.