The new Peninsula Museum of Art in Burlingame is not like most museums. They’re usually started by major collectors, and most of those collectors are men, who – as Ruth Waters puts it – “need a place to put their stuff, and want to share it with the community. We didn’t start that way.”
Waters is not a wealthy male collector or philanthropist. She’s a working artist, who has focused on the idea of a different type of art museum for over 20 years. There wasn’t much interest from others in the beginning. The thinking seemed to be, what’s the point, when nearby San Francisco already has so many cultural outlets?
That thinking was shaken, Waters says, after the 1989 earthquake. Concerns about transportation issues, for one, encouraged residents of the Peninsula to consider their own neighborhoods as sources of cultural amenities. Residents also recognized that biotech and high tech had altered the area.
“We were no longer just a collection of bedroom communities,” she says.
Waters, who is the museum’s director, thinks it’s vital that everyone have access to original, quality works of art.
“Looking at a picture in a book doesn’t do it. It’s a teaser. The actual artwork of wonderful paintings and sculpture – the hand of the artist is there. The heart and soul, if it’s good work, is there,” says Waters.
The Peninsula Museum of Art has three rooms displaying widely varied high quality works. And there are 33 additional rooms where visitors can see art in progress. These are the studios of working artists, something else Waters believes the public should experience.
“I can’t tell you,” she relates in her energetic fashion, “how many times families have come in … and the kids will run out and say, ‘Mommy! I just saw a real artist!’ And that, I think, is just terribly important, to bring the creative people, the visual artists, out of isolation, and into the community. We need each other.”
A community benefit of the studios is that the rent paid by the artists helps make it possible to have the museum open, free of charge.
Ruth Waters is a sculptor, but her work won’t be shown in the arts complex she has worked so hard to create. Nor will any of work of other board members, most of whom are artists.
“We can’t show our work in the museum,” she explains. “That would be a conflict of interest.”