"Fear no art."
It's not exactly a catchy bumper sticker, but it's what Kathy Earnhart would like to tell people.
As director of public relations at the Butler Institute of American Art, Earnhart wants to see more museum visitors.
"I think people are afraid they'll feel stupid or that they just won't understand," she said. "But once someone comes, they come time and again."
Some 30,000 children tour the museum each year as part of the Butler's educational outreach. (This includes the Youngstown, Trumbull County and Salem branches.) Those kids, in turn, often return with their parents, Earnhart said. What they find is a museum with a lot to offer; one that, if you haven't visited in a while, may surprise you.
"Since art and technology is really desirable to today's youth, we're trying to attract them," Earnhart said, referring to some of the museum's new exhibits.
Earnhart has no shortage of exhibits, activities and programs to hawk. Our "hometown museum," as Earnhart put it, is a constantly evolving community asset.
Built in 1919, the Butler was the first institute in the country built specifically to exhibit American art. From time to time, it displays work by non-Americans that has inspired American art, but it has remained true to its original concept, housing only American art in its permanent collection.
Staying contemporary: Although the main museum is classical in design, the newest wing features marble and wooden stairs, large windows and a very modern look.
"The Butler is very traditional and very high-tech," Earnhart said. "We always have something new."
More than 40 temporary exhibits are featured each year, in fact.
What's there now: Currently, Patrick Boyd's holography exhibit exemplifies high-tech. An example of non-American art -- Boyd is from the United Kingdom -- his holographs have been very influential in American holography, Earnhart said. The pieces are extraordinary, even with ordinary themes such as a newborn in a father's arms and a walk across a city square.
Video art will find a temporary home at the other end of the hall as the work of artist Bill Viola comes to the Butler.
"We're building a viewing room that looks anything but temporary," Earnhart said.
"Lightworks" is a provocative work using digital technologies. Are hanging strands of light art, or aren't they? You be the judge. And while you're being an art critic, drop into Carol Adams' "Stimulated Emissions" to be a part of a neon, glowing wire, light technology exhibit.
Travels: On the same floor is the digital photography of Dennis Marsico, who traveled to Paradise -- Paradise, Kan.; Paradise, Texas; and Paradise, Ore., among others. These will soon be replaced by a 30-foot-long digital mural of a beach in Italy.
Another digital work is a surprise. Because "Snap the Whip" is out on tour, a digital copy sits on an easel on the first floor.
The truth is, the Butler is full of surprises. A Salvador Dali exhibit will be featured at the Trumbull branch this fall, for example. Add to that its touring exhibits, regular offerings from a weekly classic film series, art classes and youth programs, and you can see why Earnhart has so much to talk about.
If you're ready to get over your fear of art, visit www.butlerart.com or call (330) 743-1711 and request a newsletter.
"What is the use? The people are too stupid. They do not understand," Winslow Homer once said. Earnhart, I think, would emphatically disagree.