Rural Missouri Magazine

Causing quite a stir
Sedalia's Daum Museum of Contemporary Art
has caught the art world's attention

by Jeff Joiner

A visitor to the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art in Sedalia walks through one of a dozen gallery spaces at the museum which opened on the campus of State Fair Community College in January.

Visitors are coming to Missouri from all over the United States, and even the world, to see for themselves what The New York Times is calling a “remarkable concentration of museums.” And in Sedalia sits the newest and most surprising museum of them all, the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art.

“It’s like a pilgrimage,” says Douglass Freed, director of the Daum which sits on the small campus of State Fair Community College. “We’ve had numerous people tell us they’ve either flown in to St. Louis or Kansas City from the East Coast and rented a car and driven across the state to stop here in Sedalia.”

Freed describes some of the more than 20,000 people who have visited the Daum Museum since it opened in January. Many are art patrons more accustomed to visiting well-known museums in the art capital of the world, New York City, who are trekking to Missouri to see what all the fuss is about.

In April an article in the Times declared the existence of an art boom in the Heartland. The article talked about the growth of important contemporary art museums in St. Louis, Kansas City and, yes, Sedalia.

“If some people on the East and West coasts still think they have a greater intrinsic interest in vanguard art than their brethren in the Midwest, the flowering of these museums suggests they my be mistaken,” wrote Stephen Kinzer for the Times.

The terra cotta sculpture, “Grin & Bear It,” by Lisa Tully Dibble shows the often humerous approach artists take with their work.

Even beyond The New York Times, the Daum is also receiving world acclaim. The museum has been written about in art journals in Europe and Australia and a writer and photographer from Bejing, China, even visited Sedalia to write about the Daum.

The Daum is also listed, among only a handful of other Missouri museums, in the National Gallery Guide. And it’s the only Missouri listing outside St. Louis or Kansas City.

“You have to be an important art venue to be listed in the Guide,” says Freed. “This is like the gallery bible of the United States. It’s thrilling to me to look in that and see Sedalia, Missouri.”

All the attention the Daum receives is no surprise to Freed who has know for many years that a great art collection existed in Sedalia and only needed an exhibition space to show it. And thanks to Dr. Harold Daum the collection and gallery space finally came together this year.

Freed, a native of western Kansas, came to Sedalia 34 years ago to start the art department at State Fair Community College. He and his wife moved into a duplex next door to Daum, a Sedalia radiologist, and the couple became friends with the quiet, unassuming doctor.

Freed, a painter and sculptor, built a studio in the basement of the duplex and Daum took an interest in the young painter’s work. Freed and Daum shared a love of modern art and Freed often advised his neighbor on buying art. The two began traveling the Midwest and to New York City in the early 1970s to meet artists and visit galleries.

“We had a shared aesthetic. My work at the time was very abstract and he was very interested in cutting edge stuff. Almost all of his money went into his passion for collecting. In 1974 he bought a Helen Frankenthaler painting for $16,000. That was a lot of money to spend for a painting at the time.”

After building a large home outside Sedalia on 400 acres, Daum added a 3,000-square-foot addition to display some of his growing art collection. Freed says his entire home became exhibition space.

Douglas Freed, who came to the college 34 years ago to head the art department, is now the director and curator of the Daum.

About six years ago Daum, in his 70s and retired, approached Freed and said he wanted to donate his collection to the community college. Freed was immediately struck by the enormity of the offer.

“I said, ‘Well, Hal, that’s fine and dandy but what are we going to do with it?’ ”

The two thought at first of putting it in storage and bringing out individual works for students to study, but Freed decided the collection was too important to be put into storage. Freed suggested building a museum.

In two years Freed managed to raise $500,000 for the project, which fell far short of the amount needed. That’s when Daum agreed to donate $2.5 million and offered a $500,000 challenge grant to State Fair Community College to set up an endowment for acquisitions.

In the end Freed says the Sedalia community donated nearly $800,000 to build the museum, including what the college put into the project. The Daum Museum also received $500,000 as one of the original Missouri Cultural Trust grant recipients through the Missouri Arts Council. Construction of the Daum began in September 2000.

“We were now ready to establish ourselves as a major venue for contemporary art in the United States.”

The ceramic scuplture “Reflection of the Flame” by John Balistreri leads visitors to the Daum Museum and the art department of State Fair Community College.

That meant building 20,000 square feet of exhibition space in 12 galleries and an additional 6,000 square feet of art storage space.

“We have more exhibition space than the Chicago Contemporary Art Museum. And if you take in the museum and the art department and theater and the seven art department studios and offices, we’re probably one of the largest art complexes in the state of Missouri.”

And all that art and architecture sits quietly in the middle of the community college campus just a stone’s throw from the Missouri State Fairgrounds.

“The thing that’s really exciting to me is that this cutting edge venue is in this rural area of only 20,000 people,” says Freed.

And the astonishing thing is visitors to the museum so far this year have far exceeded Freed’s early estimates of attendance. Freed says he wrote a grant proposal last year for museum funding and in it estimated 6,000 people would visit the Daum in its first year. The 20,000 who have actually walked through the doors has astounded Freed.

Freed says he is excited to have a chance to expose rural Missourians to contemporary art which he defines as work created in the last 30 years. The Daum’s permanent collection includes paintings, prints, sculpture and installation art, or pieces created by the artist to fit a particular gallery space.

Kate Hackman, left, editor of Review, a Kansas City visual arts publication, interviews Maria Jose’ de la Macorra, an artist from Mexico City, about her work being installed at the Daum Museum for an upcoming exhibition. Jose’ de la Macorra was an artist-in-residence for seven weeks at the museum where she worked to prepare pieces for her exhibition.

On Sept. 28 the Daum opened an exhibit of seven installation artists who have created pieces from a room full of 25 plexiglass tables pulsating with light to the world premiere of a work by a video artist who uses multiple projectors to create three-dimensional video images.

Contemporary art, often abstract and which can challenge the viewer, should be shown in rural America, says Freed.

“If we get 2,000 Sedalians to pass through this museum, that’s one tenth of our town. It’s absolutely thrilling to me to be able to show the people of rural Missouri this art in this beautiful space.”

Freed also takes as a mission exhibiting the many established regional artists who may not receive much attention from East Coast and West Coast art galleries and museums. Many of the artists being shown at the Daum are from Missourian or surrounding states.

If all the Daum’s attention is any indication, artists who land a show at the museum will no doubt receive a boost to their careers.

For more information about the Daum Museum of Contemporary Art visit or call (660) 530-5888. The museum is located on the campus of State Fair Community College at 3201 W. 16th Street and is open daily except Mondays.

Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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