Covering the City with the ‘People’s Museum’

August 29, 2022

Erin Coulehan

A Victorian-style mansion nestled in the Montana Avenue Historic District is home to the International Museum of Art, otherwise known as “the People’s Museum.” Acclaimed architect Henry Trost designed the structure, which was home to State Senator William Turney and his wife Iva from 1909 through 1939. 

Today, the International Museum of Art remains a sanctuary of the arts for the people of the Borderland that also serves as home to The City Magazine’s 10-year anniversary retrospective that runs through the end of August. 

What better way to celebrate the legacies and lifestyles of El Paso than a glamorous mansion?

Many are familiar with Trost’s work, which includes the first skyscrapers in downtown El Paso like the Anson Mills and Abdou buildings that were celebrated for their modernity at the time of construction.

But the Turneys wanted their home to be designed in a more traditional style. 

Much like the melting pot of cultures the region would later be known for, the mansion features a combination of different cultures and qualities that coalesce into a unique identity: part Antebellum, part Greek, and part White House.

“We are a border community that’s international,” says Cynthia Horton, Vice President of the International Museum of Art’s board of directors. “And we want to represent everybody — all peoples — because it belongs to them.  It was Mr. And Mrs. Turney’s gift to the city. And so it continues to be the people’s museum that belongs to them.” 

Mrs. Turney donated the home to the City of El Paso in 1940 following Senator Turney’s death to honor the wish that their house would become a home for the arts. Turney sold the house to the City of El Paso for one dollar. 

Before functioning as a museum, the building was used as a center for women’s contributions to World War II efforts, as well as a leased space for art aficionados from1941 through 1954; itwas officially opened to the public as it is today in 1947. 

Since then, the International Museum of Art’s mission has been to support and encourage the visual arts in El Paso and the Southwest through the exhibition of local, regional, and international art, lectures, gallery talks, education, and guided tours. 

The museum remains true to its nickname as the People’s Museum because it’s entirely supported by the people of the community. 

“This is a community-based organization,” says Horton.  “We’re a nonprofit, and we purely exist, because of the people.”

The International Museum of Art does not receive government funding and instead relies on its “Pillars of Support” program. 

“We estimate that it takes about 275 dollars to operate the museum each day, which is about 11 dollars an hour,” explains Emily Leedom, the International Museum of Art’s newly-hired Executive Director.

The donations go to necessities like utilities and also support an array of pieces, collections, and exhibitions. 

“Everybody has a story when they come in here,” says Horton, “and we want them to know that this is their museum. It represents every area of our community and culture. This is a place to learn about our history and the history of others — a culture of others. What a gift.” 

The International Museum of Art houses diverse permanent collections as well as two changing galleries. The collections include work by Southwestern artists, like William Kolliker, and African, Asian, and Mexican art. 

The exhibits at the People’s Museum are as much about remembering the past as they are examining contemporary issues. 

“We just had an exhibit of artwork by youth from juvenile detention, which was great to give them an opportunity to do so. When you talk about the People’s Museum, having an opportunity for kids in juvenile detention to show their work and really tie in what the heartbeat of the city was in their experiences. Especially following the August 3rd shooting, it was important for them to do a poster contest on breaking the cycle of violence. It was just amazing,” Horton. 

Leedom is part of a new generation at the International Museum of Art that Horton is excited to guide and pass the proverbial torch to.

“We’re so grateful,” says Horton. “We’re trying to do things that will be here for the next 100 years.”

For the last 10 years, The City Magazine has been covering the very best coming out of El Paso and celebrated the mileston with the International Museum of Art. 

From the Pope’s visit to the Borderland and grand opening of the Plaza Pioneer Park Hotel to CEO, Dr. Cindy Stout of El Paso’s Children’s Hospital and lawyer-artist Patrick Gabaldon who leaves his mark on the community in and out of the courtroom, the magazine has been documenting our region’s rich history amid a world-changing decade that we believed was worth celebrating.

The City Magazine’s retrospective at the International Museum of Art This exhibit communicated the long-lasting relationship between the El Paso community and a modern periodical that endeavors to document the Borderland’s most exciting legacies and lifestyles. The goal was for visitors to learn about the local print media industry, which is very much alive! 

The City Magazine is emblematic of the symbiotic relationship that exists between El Paso’s leading figures, small business owners, creatives, and community.

The inspiration behind this exhibit is the El Paso community. 

The City Magazine would not exist without the city or county of El Paso, and it’s paramount to honor the evolution of our community over the course of the last world-changing decade. The City Magazine’s purpose is to ensure the achievements of the community are preserved through the longevity of the print.
As guests explored the International Museum of Art and The City Magazine’s retrospective, we’re hopeful the legacies and lifestyles of this special region will inspire younger generations to continue to move forward and cultivate their own lifestyles and legacies.

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