Valley unity, determination bring acclaim to the Butler

Kudos and acclaim are nothing new to the Butler Institute of American art, the shining cultural jewel of the Mahoning Valley.

Since its founding on Wick Avenue in Youngstown 99 years ago by industrialist Joseph G. Butler as this nation’s first museum devoted exclusively to American works of art, the museum has grown and prospered. Today, it boasts a collection of more than 20,000 diverse works spanning the centuries from Native American paintings and sculptures to state-of-the-art holographic and new--media masterpieces.

Sixty years ago in a feature on the institute, Time magazine called the Youngstown landmark “booming.” Further, the May 1958 article praised the Butler and its namesake founder: “To set the strictly American tone of the place, he planted a befeathered bronze Indian in front of the $500,000 colonnaded building designed by the Manhattan firm of McKim, Mead & White. With Youngstown University nearby, the two blocks surrounding the museum soon developed into the cultural strip of the U.S.’s third biggest steel center.”

Though the Mahoning Valley long ago ceded its standing as a leading steel producer for the nation and the world, the reputation of The Butler Institute, “America’s Museum,” has only improved with age.

The latest proof of its proud stature is on display for the world to see at the digital media website ranker.com, which posts polls on entertainment, brands, sports and culture. Ranker is reported to have more than 49 million monthly unique visitors.

Last week, in its polling on The Best Art Museums in The United States, the Butler Institute catapulted to first place among competitors from around the county, beating out such nationally renowned institutions at The Metropolitan Museum in New York City or the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

As of Sunday, the Butler had slipped to No. 2, behind only The Met, which boasts a collection of more than 2 million artworks.

UNSCIENTIFIC POLL

But lest we be accused of sensationalizing a clearly unscientific poll, we must concede that The Butler falls far short of earning bragging rights as one of the biggest art museums in the nation and arguably would not be grouped among the best of the best showcases of visual art among the thousands in this country. Butler administrators also acknowledge as much.

But the Valley museum clearly holds its own among the best when considering its four centuries of classic holdings, its Beecher Center wing of new media and digital art and its Trumbull Branch with a focus on international artists whose works profoundly influenced American trends.

Yet in spite of those and many other assets of the musuem, we suspect a sudden flurry of mob voting – likely largely from Butler aficionados throughout the Mahoning Valley – contributed to its surprising leap to the top of the heap on ranker.com.

The Butler staff did not campaign for any votes – and didn’t even consider it. But it did share the link with friends of the museum.

“We obviously have a lot of friends,” said Louis Zona, executive director of the Butler.

The rousing success of that loosely organized campaign that has brought positive attention to Greater Youngstown reminds us of another campaign that clicked six years ago and shined a similar vibrant light on our region.

In the spring of 2012, Walmart organized a nationwide campaign called Fighting Hunger Together, in which residents of communities across the nation registered online votes for a chance at winning the grand prize of $1 million in grants to hunger-relief organizations. With nearly 100,000 votes, the Mahoning Valley easily took first place to the benefit of the Second Harvest Food Bank and other hunger-relief agencies here.

That campaign and the ongoing ranker.com clicking frenzy speak to the power of the people of the Mahoning Valley to mobilize for causes and interests they believe in.

Let that same impressively strong show of collective will and community unity be marshaled to draw positive attention to the Valley in other domains and to achieve broader goals in other spheres where influence counts.

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