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"We do anywhere from 40 to 50 exhibits a year," says Wallace. "In some ways, that's too many. What's been happening is we've just been putting art up and haven't had time to focus on education."
Despite that, education has been one of the museum's strengths. For years field trips to the museum and classroom talks by museum docents provided the only formal art education that children in the Dysart Unified School District received.
This year the museum expects to tour about 5,000 youngsters, up from about 3,500 last year. That isn't a huge number compared with the approximately 2,000 students that ASU toured through its galleries during the three-month stint of its Cuba exhibition last year, or the 70,000 that PAM expects to run through its Splendors of Egypt exhibition. But according to Andre Licardi, director of arts education for the Peoria Unified School District, the museum provides a critical lift for school children on the west side.
"Because we're on the west side and the bulk of the cultural institutions are downtown or to the east, it's a major expense for us to bring students to the other side of the Valley," he says.
Licardi says that since the museum hired a full-time education coordinator two years ago, it has been working closely with schools to diversify its programming for school children.
It isn't difficult to understand why.
"Jerry Colangelo knows that your future customers are the 10-year-olds you win over now," says Licardi. "In 10 years, they're your cash-paying patrons. And in another 10 or 20 years, they could easily be your cash-paying sponsors."
In the meantime, the West Valley Art Museum is moving steadily in that direction. In addition to expanding its educational programming, the museum has been working to raise its visibility and professional standing among other area art museums.
Over the past four years, its staff has gone from two to 12, adding professional staffers to the platoons of volunteers it has always drawn from Sun City. Wallace says that in coming years the museum wants to add another curator, so one can concentrate on developing exhibitions, the other on developing the museum's collections.
"That's still a ways down the road, but we're working on it," Wallace says.
What's clear is that with around 2,500 members and an annual budget of about $330,000--well above the amount that the American Association of Museums categorizes as a small museum--WVAM has become an art destination worth the drive.
Rings of Time: Wooden Visions for the Millennium continues through Sunday, March 21, at the West Valley Art Museum/Sun Cities Museum of Art, 17420 North Avenue of the Arts (114th Avenue and West Bell Road) in Surprise. For more information, call 972-0635.