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Grantee Spotlight: Jessica May

"I am in charge of our 18,000 pieces of artwork at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine. Our downtown museum tells an essential American story of art made in a more rural part of the country. It includes work by painter Winslow Homer and by sculptor Franklin Simmons.

Until we decided to apply for an NEH grant for a complete overhaul, the museum hadn’t changed much in 15 years. We painted gallery walls and took down paintings to have them cleaned and restored. We built new bases for our sculptures and created a study room. We hired a part-time staffer who was eventually promoted to a full-time job.

It took five years and we closed the museum twice. But on a cold February night, there were 2,700 people waiting to attend the museum reopening. I saw joy on people’s faces. I heard them say: “I’ve never seen this place look so good!” There was a sense of discovery and pride in the museum. We also created an online catalog of our collections. More visitors come to us now and our membership has grown. None of this would have been possible without the grant from NEH."