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Arts festival gets museum's birthday party started

September 17, 2006|by MARIE GILBERT

HAGERSTOWN - It was a memorable year - 1931. The Empire State Building was completed, a congressional resolution made The Star-Spangled Banner our national anthem and the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts opened its doors to the public.

A gift from Anna Brugh Singer and William H. Singer Jr., the idea for the museum was motivated by Mrs. Singer's love of art and music, and her desire to have a cultural center in Hagerstown.

Today, 75 years later, the museum still serves the purpose intended by its founders.

Overlooking the lake in Hagerstown's City Park, the museum provides residents and visitors access to more than 6,000 objects of art, musical concerts, lectures, films, classes and workshops.

To celebrate its 75th birthday, the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts is planning a 12-month party, with special exhibitions, noted performers, a gala and even a trip to Europe.

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The party officially began Saturday with a Festival for the Arts. And everybody was invited.

The event included dance performances, displays and demonstrations by local artists, museum tours, music and art activities for children.

Also joining in the party were the Mansion House Art Gallery, south of the museum, and the Hager House in the north end of the park.

"It was important to us to kick off our celebration with an event that was free and open to the public," said Katie Groh Fitzsimmons, chairperson for the anniversary planning committee.

"My understanding is that Anna Singer wanted to build a place where everybody could come to enjoy the arts, free of charge. So I think she would be thrilled with what's happening here today," Fitzsimmons said. "This is what she envisioned - a partnership between the museum and the community."

Planning for the museum's 75th anniversary began almost two years ago, she said.

"It's been a lot of work, but everyone volunteering on the various committees has wanted to make this year's celebration very special," Fitzsimmons said. "We all feel very lucky to live in a community this size and have something as wonderful as the museum."

Museum director Joseph Ruzicka was pleased to see a great turnout for the festival, and hoped the community would continue to participate in the many activities planned throughout the year.

"For some years, this museum had the reputation, true or not, that it was a club for the elite," Ruzicka said. "It was important for me, personally, to send the opposite message. This museum is for everybody."

It's a sentiment shared by Kelly Stoner, who was among the visitors to the Saturday festival.

"I can remember coming here as a little girl," the Hagerstown resident said. "I thought it was the grandest place I had ever seen. I still feel that way."

Over the years, Stoner said she has taken art classes at the museum, attended recitals and "taken a rainy day to just browse at the many exhibits."

As a young mother, she took her children to the museum, and now takes her grandchildren.

"It really is a museum for the community," Stoner said. "We should all realize what we have in our own backyard. It's pretty special."

Today at 2:30 p.m., Anna Singer, soprano and great-grandniece of William Singer Jr., will perform a program titled "Broadway and Back." A reception will follow.

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