Rockford Art Museum: Art is for Everyone

Among the great gems of our community is Rockford Art Museum (RAM), located in the city’s downtown museum campus at 711 N. Main St. Now through at least June 11, admission to the museum is free, a situation that museum leaders hope they’ll be able to continue.

“It’s so important to create a museum that’s accessible to our community,” says Carrie Johnson, RAM curator and executive director. “There should be no barriers for someone to come and experience art.”

Museum admission is always free during the two weeks between rotating major exhibits in the main gallery upstairs but right now admission is also free for the current major exhibit that runs through May 31.

“Jonah King’s ‘How the West Was Won’ is an immersive documentary video experience that takes visitors on a journey through the modern American West, where eternal golfers replace rugged cowboys,” explains Johnson. “It’s a collaboration with Rockford-based New Genres Art Space.”

Also in the main gallery is Veronica Soria Martinez’s “Memory Access,” another immersive digital experience that uses experimental sound art and augmented reality light sculptures to imagine the future. The Rockford-based artist creates a multi-sensory experience that interfaces with RAM’s new smartphone app. You can use the app to view Martinez’s augmented reality sculptures as you walk around her exhibit. iPads are available to view the augmented reality portions.

RAM’s Anderson Gallery, downstairs, features samples from the museum’s 100-piece permanent collection. American Masters shows off traditional art media, including portraits and landscapes. There’s also a showing of African American art from the southern U.S.

This summer, pop and modern contemporary pieces from RAM’s collection will become the main attraction upstairs. The show will feature selections collected over the past two decades. Artists to be featured in the summer show include Kerry James Marshall, Jackie Tileston, Diane Simpson, Jeff Koons and Nic Nicosia.

Meanwhile, a longtime favorite – RAM’s Young Artist Show – will take on a new spin this year as it’s presented virtually. The 80th Anniversary Show will display the work of Rockford Public Schools students and can be viewed online at

Beyond RAM’s rotating exhibits is a wealth of programming for the public to enjoy. The museum offers classes for children, lectures for adults and resources for teachers, with both virtual and in-person formats.
Cartoon Club was recently started by Jamie Fedora, RAM’S education manager, as a Saturday afternoon art lesson for children 6 years and older. Fedora guides students step-by-step as they draw video game characters, baby animals and more.

For adults, a studio class meets weekly at the museum. Additional adult workshops will be rolling out soon, says Johnson.

“We did one night with local artist Lynn Fisher Carlson. She did an amazing ceramics class,” says Johnson. “She was just working with clay with people in the gallery for about 2 hours.”

Johnson sees increased interest among beginning artists for 2-hour sessions that allow them to explore new mediums. She believes collaborations with other organizations will prove essential to the museum’s future.

“We’ve got a really strong collaboration with the City of Rockford and are lending out pieces from our permanent collection to the mayor’s office,” says Johnson. “Next year, I’m working on an exhibition that’s featuring an artist who works with books. I’m hoping to have a good collaboration with the library then. We’re going to be doing a 60-foot-long book installation in the galleries upstairs.”

RAM is supported by a combination of private donations and grants and also depends upon the generosity of its members. Museum members receive discounts on classes and additional access to the museum; $15 buys an annual student membership; $50/individuals; $75/families and patron levels range from $150 to $1,000 per year for those who wish to support RAM in a major way.

Johnson anticipates a day when the art museum can end the practice of charging admission altogether. RAM is supported by a combination of private donations and grants, and the generosity of its members.

“It’s so important for us to have our communities stand behind this museum as open, friendly and accessible to everyone,” says Johnson. “So, drop a couple of dollars in the donation box if you’re able to. You can always go on our website and donate or participate in a class. Either way is a huge help for the museum.”

RAM is part of Rockford’s Riverfront Museum Park, alongside Discovery Center Museum, Rockford Dance Company and the offices of Rockford Symphony Orchestra. Learn more at ❚