The Institute of Museum and Library Services in May announced that the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau is a National Medal winner, the nation’s highest honor given to museums and libraries for service to the community.

As a 2017 National Medal winner, the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum is one of only two art museums among the five museums and five libraries named National Medal winners by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, a federal agency supporting the nation’s approximately 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums, all of which are eligible for the award.

Winners are chosen because of their significant and exceptional contributions to their communities. For 23 years, the award has celebrated institutions that respond to societal needs in innovative ways, making a difference for individuals, families, and their communities. The award will be presented at an event in Washington, D.C., in early summer.

 “We are proud to honor the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum and nine other institutions with this year’s National Medal for Museum and Library Service,” said Dr. Kathryn K. Matthew, director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services. “These institutions play a critical role as community catalysts and provide vital resources that drive economic development, foster community well-being and spark neighborhood revitalization. We are proud of all 10 museums and libraries and celebrate their ongoing commitment to their communities.”

Among the Museum’s most popular recent educational offerings was the summer 2016 “Design Lab” held in mid-July. Here, children ages 5-8, under the tutelage of Woodson Art Museum educators, designed and re-purposed chairs, inspired by the exhibition on view, “The Art of Seating: 200 Years of American Design.” Once complete, these young designers’ chairs were included in an exhibition showcasing their work at the Woodson Art Museum. Photo by Richard Wunsch, Wausau.

 In addition to being named a National Medal finalist in 2016 and 2017, the Woodson Art Museum also was the 2016 winner of the Wisconsin Governor’s Arts, Culture, and Heritage tourism award.

 With the Woodson Art Museum’s mission “to enhance lives through art,” staff continually strive to provide visitors with barrier-free access to a vast array of visual arts – through the commitment to always-free admission, a fully accessible physical facility, and demystifying artistic processes. “Visitors often wonder ‘how do artists do that?’ Artist residencies and many Woodson Art Museum programs help demystify process, engage people in looking, and encourage them to try art themselves,” said Woodson Art Museum director Kathy Kelsey Foley. “Winning the National Medal is incredibly empowering; this makes us want to do more. We want everyone to know there is something at the Woodson Art Museum that will pique curiosity and engage; just give us a try.”

From experiences via ever-changing artwork in the galleries, the sculpture garden, and Art Park – the Museum’s interactive family gallery – to visiting artists’ presentations and workshops, and other hands-on art-making opportunities, the Woodson Art Museum offers programs for all ages and life stages – from babies, children, and families to students during class visits and teens and adults. Woodson Art Museum programs such as SPARK!, for individuals with memory loss, and Art Beyond Sight, for individuals with blindness or low vision, offer multisensory ways to experience the visual arts.

The Woodson Art Museum’s contemporary and historic collection sets a world standard for avian- and nature-themed art. The Museum’s flagship, internationally renowned “Birds in Art” exhibition each fall attracts more than sixty participating artists from throughout the world as well as visitors who flock to Wausau to see each exhibition’s all-new, avian-inspired artwork.

Woodson Art Museum director Kathy Kelsey Foley credited the community’s and the region’s enthusiasm for embracing the full range of engagement opportunities and propelling staff continually to raise the bar. “It is a privilege to share observations and firsthand experiences of how a visit to the Woodson Art Museum can change someone’s point of view, expand their understanding of the world beyond the community, or brighten a day,” she said. “Recognition of the Woodson Art Museum by the Institute of Museum and Library Services as a winner of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service is among the highest forms of validation, not only for those of us who work in the museum field, but also that can be appreciated by community members at large. Being honored as a National Medal winner brings recognition to the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum from a federal agency on a national stage. We are grateful beyond words.”

Prioritizing barrier-free access throughout the Woodson Art Museum’s physical facility benefits those with disabilities and all visitors. Hunter Kelch, a 24-year-old visitor with Cerebral Palsy who blogs about accessibility issues, gave the Museum his first-ever five-wheelchair-star rating in August 2016 for full accessibility and great service. He and his mother “were able to sit in a beautiful setting and take a break from our hectic lives,” he wrote. “For that moment, we were mother and son, not caregiver and client. When caregivers do not have to make adjustments due to obstacles, their experience changes from that of a caregiver to being a friend or family member. Only rarely am I able to give that gift to my mom, who traveled this ‘disabled journey’ with me, my entire life.”

A community member will join Foley in Washington, D.C., to provide a personal account of the power and impact the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum has had in Wausau.

Celebrating a focus on avian art, this site-specific sculpture of two thirty-foot sandhill cranes, titled “The Dance,” was created in June 2016 by Andy Moerlein and Donna Dodson, known as The Myth Makers. More than 500 saplings were harvested in the Wausau, Wisconsin, area and trimmed by Museum staff and volunteers to enable The Myth Makers to construct “The Dance.” This photo of Andy and Donna on June 25, 2016 shows them proudly in front of their finished sculpture on the Woodson Art Museum campus. Photo by Richard Wunsch, Wausau.

The recipients of the National Medal for Museum and Library Service have employed powerful programs and services that exceed the expected levels of community outreach, in some cases changing the lives of those who enter their doors. The 10 winners were selected from 30 national finalists announced earlier in March.

After the Washington, D.C., National Medal award ceremony, StoryCorps — a national nonprofit dedicated to recording, preserving, and sharing the stories of Americans — will visit the Woodson Art Museum to document stories from our community.

As the only full-service art museum in northern Wisconsin, the Woodson Art Museum, which opened in 1976, offers a myriad of community engagement opportunities and maintains its more than four-decade commitment to always-free admission. Woodson Art Museum programs enliven and amplify themes from temporary changing exhibitions, ranging from Tiffany Studios leaded-glass lampshades and M.C. Escher lithographs to each new iteration of the Museum’s internationally renowned “Birds in Art” presented each fall.

 Themes from these ever-changing exhibitions are woven throughout programs that span the age and life-stage spectrum – from Art Babies, launched in 2009 for little ones and accompanying adults, to SPARK!, created in 2010 for individuals with early- to mid-stage memory loss and their loved ones or care partners. Art Beyond Sight, implemented in 2006, provides multisensory ways for individuals with blindness or low vision to experience the visual arts.

For a complete list of 2017 recipients and to learn more about the National Medal winners, please visit

About the Institute of Museum and Library Services

The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) is celebrating its 20th Anniversary. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation’s approximately 123,000 libraries and 35,000 museums. Our mission is to inspire libraries and museums to advance innovation, lifelong learning, and cultural and civic engagement. Our grant making, policy development, and research help libraries and museums deliver valuable services that make it possible for communities and individuals to thrive. To learn more, visit and follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.