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Quirky Museums: American Visionary Art Museum

Continuing our series highlighting quirky museums around the world; we are putting the spotlight on Baltimore, Maryland, U.S.A.

Baltimore, Maryland: Babe Ruth, world famous breweries, wide roads, historical buildings, all surrounded by one of the largest ports in the United States. Baltimore is known as a melting pot of art and culture, and is home to some of the largest civil rights organizations in the world. Thousands of people travel there every year to see preserved navy ships from the civil war and visit the several art museums housed there. Though one museum in particular has a different take on what constitutes art.

Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, founder, standing in front of a facade of AVAM created and designed by juveniles held in the care of the Baltimore Penal System.

The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) was founded in 1989 by Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, but didn’t officially open its doors to the public until 1995. The museum first started out as an idea for an educational center for intuitive creative invention, and it wasn’t until Hoffberger visited Jean DuBuffet’s Art Brut Museum in 1985 that she began to conceptualize it as a museum. Using her husband's connections to hold exhibitions at the George Ciscle Gallery in Baltimore, she began working to make this dream a reality. After two successful shows, Hoffberger asked People Encouraging People Inc., a non-profit organization that she had worked for, to assist in the creation of a non-profit and the garnering funds for the formation of a museum. Soon after, the city of Baltimore donated two industrial buildings to the organization to begin construction.

The AVAM sculpture building designed by Rebecca Swanston and Alex Castro (1989-1995) and built by J. Vinton Schafer & Sons (1993-1995).

Six years later, the AVAM officially opened its doors to the public. Just like the art houses inside, the museum prides itself on being non-traditional. Focusing on the human condition and the empowerment of the inner voice, it does not follow the usual canon of presenting the history surrounding the art. Hoffberger believes that focusing on the philosophy of why the art was created helps viewers better connect with a piece as well as inspire them to create. This unconventional way of presenting exhibitions has helped to change the game in museum culture, and has aided the museum in the acquisition of the title of “America’s official national education center, repository and museum for self-taught, intuitive artistry”.

If you would like to learn more about AVAM and its exhibitions, please visit their website: and let us know what you think of this quirky museum.

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