With its gorgeous sprawling gardens, its permanent collection of more than 5,000 objects, and its idyllic location along the banks of the St. Johns River, Jacksonville’s Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens offers nearly 140,000 annual visitors a truly unique experience on Florida’s First Coast. We caught up with Andrea Barnwell Brownlee—the institution’s new Director and CEO—to learn more about her vision for this North Florida fantasyland.
What is your vision for broadening the permanent art collection in the galleries?
My vision for the museum is a dynamic collection that captivates our members and visitors, and compels them to linger longer. I want our collection to challenge people and inspire conversations, even after guests leave our galleries.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected operations?
The pandemic has really illustrated how meaningful our riverfront gardens are for the community. I think we all have a renewed appreciation for natural spaces, and how important they are for fostering interaction, relaxation, reflection, and fun. The museum is unique in its ability to offer everyone an opportunity to come take a moment, right on the river, to find solace and respite.
What’s the history behind the museum and its gardens?
The museum was built on the site of Ninah and Arthur Cummer’s personal home. Ninah was an exceptional gardener, and she enlisted the support of some of the leading landscape designers and architects of her time—including Ossian Cole Simonds, Ellen Biddle Shipman, Thomas Meehan and Sons, and the Olmsted firm. Each garden (English, Italian, and Olmsted) has a distinct aesthetic. The gardens may not look exactly the same today as they did in Ninah’s time, but the styles are consistent. The gardens’ popularity over time is truly a testament to the quality of her original plans.
How will you bring the historic gardens into the future while preserving the original designs?
The gardens have a remarkable reputation, both here in Jacksonville and within the broader horticultural community. My vision is to build on that reputation and entice even more people to experience their beauty. We have an extraordinary opportunity to make the gardens come alive in new ways and bring even more people together.