The Museum of Arts and Design (“MAD”) explores the blur zone between art, design, and craft today. Accredited by the American Association of Museums since 1991, MAD focuses on contemporary creativity and the ways in which artists and designers from around the world transform materials through processes ranging from the artisanal to the digital.
For nearly half a century, MAD has served as the country’s premier institution dedicated to the collection and exhibition of contemporary objects created in media such as clay, glass, wood, metal, and fiber. The seed for MAD, however, was planted almost 70 years ago, when Aileen Osborn Webb—the nation’s premier craft patron and benefactor—established the American Craftsmen’s Council in 1942.
The Council’s original goal was to recognize the work of American craftspeople and to make the general public aware of the vitality that contemporary craft expression could bring to an age of machine-made products. In support of this goal, the Council created educational programs and competitions that promoted technical excellence among craftspeople and celebrated the beauty of the handmade object. The success of these programs revealed a need for a museum dedicated to contemporary American craft.
In 1956, and with Mrs. Webb’s continuing support, the Museum of Contemporary Crafts opened in a Victorian brownstone at 29 West 53rd Street. The inaugural exhibition, Craftsmanship in a Changing World, documented the emerging role of craft artists and their influence as teachers, production workers, designers, and architectural collaborators.
In the decades that followed, MAD broadened its vision and expanded the scope of its exhibitions and programs. In 1979, MAD was renamed the American Craft Museum, reflecting its position, and in 1986, moved to a new location in four floors of a new building at 40 West 53rd Street. The new Museum’s space—designed by Roche-Dinkeloo, with an interior created by Fox & Fowle Architects—doubled the space of the original quarters. The opening exhibition was Craft Today: Poetry of the Physical, which articulated the direction of MAD’s new era. Some of the objects were purely functional, while others placed a higher value on visual expression and conceptual content.
Today, MAD celebrates materials and processes that are embraced by practitioners in the fields of craft, art and design, as well as architecture, fashion, interior design, technology, performing arts, and art and design-driven industries. The institution’s new name, adopted in 2002, reflects this wider spectrum of interest, as well as the increasingly interdisciplinary nature of MAD’s permanent collection and exhibition programming.
In September, 2008, MAD opened the doors to its new home at 2 Columbus Circle to the public. With triple the exhibition space, and new amenities including a greatly expanded store, a 144-seat theater, and a restaurant, MAD is finally able to satisfy the growing public demand for its programs. 2 Columbus Circle’s design, accomplished in collaboration with architect Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture, weaves MAD into the social and cultural fabric of the newly revived Columbus Circle and its surrounding neighborhoods. The design includes a new façade that features textured terracotta panels and transparent fritted glass, materials that express MAD’s history of honoring the relationship between materials and maker.
Since September 2008, MAD has welcomed more than 1,000,000 visitors onsite, with a further 1,000,000+ online; tripled its membership, to 8,000 members; and doubled its admissions and retail revenue from its former home on West 53rd Street. At 2 Columbus Circle, MAD offers a unique museum-going experience in an alternative learning environment. Exhibitions and educational and public programs offer an intimate, accessible look into the arts today; the restaurant, theater, and award-winning retail arm complement this experience. In all of its activities, MAD serves as an intermediary between artist and museumgoer/consumer, inspiring children and adults alike to understand, appreciate, and participate in contemporary art.
Each year, MAD’s on-site and touring exhibitions program invites museumgoers to celebrate materials, process, and contemporary creation via twelve to fifteen temporary exhibitions. These include studies of materials and process and current trends in arts and design; exhibitions featuring the work of a single artist; and exhibitions with a historical focus. The MADprojects Gallery—designed to accommodate short-term, short-lead exhibitions—examines issues in contemporary art as curated by leading designers. Our Tiffany & Co. Foundation Jewelry Gallery houses our jewelry collection and shows the finest contemporary creations in three to four temporary exhibitions each year. MAD’s third-floor collections galleries feature our renowned collection of more than 2,200 objects, considered to be the most comprehensive record available of the evolving arts and design field, and interactives including our Online Collections Database, a searchable database of every object in our permanent collection also available.
MAD’s educational and outreach programs are a platform for discussion and debate about the changing nature of contemporary art and its relationship to other disciplines and media. With an increasingly international and multicultural focus, MAD’s education department provides a wealth of interpretive paths for audiences: lecture series; symposia; master classes; performance and film series; family programs; and resources for teachers and students, including interactive workshops for K-12 schoolchildren with access offered free to Title I-eligible schools—onsite in MAD’s classrooms, Open Studios for working artists—unique among museums—and theater, and online. By working with a number of programming partners, MAD is always at the forefront of the most current trends and issues in contemporary art and design.
The visionary Aileen Osborn Webb believed that the museum she created should collect, display and interpret objects that exemplify and celebrate creativity in art, craft, and design. Today, MAD—which continues to honor Mrs. Webb’s vision in all of its activities—places a unique emphasis on the essentials that link all of the creative arts: materials, techniques, and the artist's engagement with process, encouraging awareness and appreciation of art, craft and design in daily life.