Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute
Bringing the Arts to Everyone
310 Genesee Street
Utica, New York
Phone 315-797-0000

About Us

View “State of the Arts” a five-part series by WUTR chronicling MWPAI past, present and future.


 

Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute is an arts center dedicated to:

  • serving diverse audiences by advancing the appreciation, understanding, and enjoyment of the arts
  • promoting interest and participation in the arts
  • engendering artistic self-expression and personal creativity
  • assuming a leadership and advocacy role for the arts

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Founded in 1919, MWPAI continues to evolve while maintaining traditions of fine art and culture. The Museum of Art features a renowned permanent collection, fascinating exhibitions and education for all ages in an International-style gallery building designed by world famous architect Philip Johnson and also in Fountain Elms, a superb Victorian-era Italianate mansion.

The Performing Arts Division presents world famous soloists and ensembles, rising stars, recitals with commentary, cinema, family programs, outdoor festival concerts, special events, and educational activities.

The School of Art offers a nationally accredited college program in association with Pratt Institute and community art education for adults, teens and children.

Programs evolving from the interests and intentions of the founders attract more than 175,000 annually.

The Institute is named for three generations of one Utica family. Alfred Munson (1793-1854), who moved to Utica from Connecticut in 1823, accumulated the initial family fortune from industrial interests such as the manufacture of burrstones and textiles in Utica, coal mines in Pennsylvania, canal development in Upstate New York, and railroad and steamboat transportation. He and his wife, Elizabeth had two children, Helen (1824-94) and Samuel (1826-81).

In 1846 Helen married Utica lawyer James Watson Williams (1810-73), who soon became involved in his father-in-law's business affairs and served as a lobbyist on his behalf with the state legislature.

Helen Elizabeth Munson Williams (1824-94), native Utican and one of the most important philanthropists of Central New York, was a prolific 19th-century collector of decorative and fine arts. Because she was a shrewd and attentive investor who increased her inheritance severalfold, Helen was able to spend grandly on furnishings and to gather the core of what was to become the family's art collection.

Helen and James had three daughters: Grace (1847-1854), who died at age 7; Rachel (1850-1915); and Maria (1853-1935). In 1891 Maria married Thomas R. Proctor (1844-1920), a regional hotel owner and United States Navy veteran. Rachel married Frederick Proctor (1856-1929), Thomas's younger half-brother Frederick, was involved in various investment ventures and was active with community organizations and served on several Utica boards. The Williams home, which began to be called "Fountain Elms" in the 1870s, was the couple's residence for 21 years until Rachel's death in 1915. Neither of the Williams-Proctor couples had surviving children.

Rachel and Maria Williams inherited the fine and decorative arts collections established by their mother and married men whose collecting habits were similar to their own. With a corresponding flair, Frederick and Thomas Proctor amassed watches and other objects characterized as appropriate for male collectors.

After Rachel's death in 1915, the three remaining family members - sister Maria, husband Frederick, and brother-in-law Thomas - drafted their concept of a community cultural organization. In 1919 the Institute was chartered as "an artistic, musical and social center."

Thomas Proctor died in 1920, Frederick in 1929. In May 1936, a few months after Maria's death, Munson-Williams-Proctor Institute opened to the public.

Fountain Elms was maintained as a house museum, exhibiting the Proctors' paintings, prints and decorative furnishings as the nucleus of a permanent collection. In June of 1941, the Institute was granted the power to "provide instruction in higher education at the college level in the field of fine arts with authority to confer the degree of bachelor of fine arts." It was on this great occasion that the School of Art was established. For more than five decades the School of Art has flourished and continues to offer courses in adult and kids' dance and art. The 2000 fall semester brought about the first class to attend Pratt at MWP.

The Cultural Program which offered musical lectures, a record library and a motion picture program evolved into the present-day Performing Arts Division, which presents world-famous soloists and ensembles, rising stars, recitals with commentary, cinema, children's programs, outdoor festival concerts and special events offered year-round at four locations.

In the post-war period, the Museum of Art actively built its collection and as the Museum's art collection expanded, so did the need for more exhibition space. With this in mind, acclaimed architect Philip Johnson was selected by MWPAI's trustees to design the new art museum. This achievement in design stands today in distinction and grandeur as the MWPAI Museum of Art and also as an historical landmark. The museum was opened in the fall of 1960. With the construction of the Johnson building came a decision to renovate and refurbish Fountain Elms as a Victorian house museum. In 1995 the Education Wing was constructed to unite the two buildings.

The Institute also features fine art and music libraries, an Art Shop Gift Gallery, an active membership program. A recent New York State Governor's Arts Award recipient, MWPAI remains a celebrated venue for art, music, performance and education for people of every age and background.