top of page
32 jrvc NEST BALCONY.jpg



Museum founder Rebecca Alban Hoffberger has the idea for a unique new museum and education center that would emphasize intuitive creative invention and grassroots genius while she is employed as the Development Director of People Encouraging People, Inc.—a program of the Department of Psychiatry at Sinai Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland.


Folks say, “That sounds like Jean Dubuffet's Art Brut (Raw Art) Museum Collection  in Lausanne, Switzerland.” Educational-TV pioneer Donna Matson agrees to make a documentary of the Art Brut Museum to help promote the museum concept in the US. Art collector and philanthropist, LeRoy Hoffberger, accompanies them. Rebecca values Dubuffet's use of non art-speak, personal artist bios that emphasize the simple facts of the artists' lives, their creative visions, and own words. At this time about one dozen additional public collections/museums of art brut/outsider/visionary art (all terms for the same thing) exist worldwide, among them the Museum of the Subconscious in Brazil, The Watts Towers in LA, Gugging in Austria, and La Fabuloserie in France. Rebecca perceives common repetitive themes that drive much of this art, the single most common being the personal quest for Utopia—some backyard recreation of Eden or an artful plea for justice. Rebecca collaborates with the George Ciscle Gallery in Baltimore to mount two wildly successful shows, the first features matchstick artist Gerald Hawkes.


People Encouraging People, Inc. gives blessing on formation of a separate 501(c)3 non-profit, American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM, Inc), incorporated on February 6, 1989, is born—an Aquarian! The City of Baltimore offers AVAM exclusive developer's rights on 800 Key Highway, formerly the 1913 offices to the Baltimore Copper Paint Company and an adjacent historic whiskey warehouse—contingent on design and neighborhood approval and obtaining full project funding. Architects Rebecca Swanston, AIA and Alex Castro agree to collaborate on a design. Scope of project and $7.6 million campaign now defined, fundraising begins. USF&G provides the initial $250,000 planning grant, soon followed by a cumulative $2.4 million dollar challenge grant from the Zanvyl & Isabelle Krieger Foundation, matched with many generous private and public grants.Otto Billig, M.D. and British founder of art therapy, Edward Adamson, each gift their important research archives and library collection to AVAM. LeRoy and Rebecca marry. They keep museum start-up costs to a bare minimum by the exclusive use of all-volunteer development planning sweat and heart equity staff and a home office.


Maryland US Senator Barbara Mikulski spearheads leadership (joined by the entire Maryland Delegation and Senator Robert Dole) to pass a rare unanimous Resolution of Congress that designates the American Visionary Art Museum as America's official national museum, education center, and repository for intuitive, self-taught artistry.Baltimore Sun art and architecture head critics, John Dorsey and Ed Gunts, collaborate to write major feature article enthusiastically endorsing the Visionary Art Museum plan that silences much opposition. Fundraising and more glowing global media coverage of vision expands.London's Anita and Gordon Roddick, Founders of The Body Shop, contribute generously. British Friends of the American Visionary Art Museum established as charitable trust.


Thanksgiving Groundbreaking and Dedication followed by two years of award-winning construction. Builders are J. Vinton Schafer & Sons. Metal artist David Hess designs dramatic cast-tree Central Stair and all ornamental railings and benches.


LeRoy sells off his personal Expressionist Art collection to top off final monies needed. AVAM Main building, first sculpture plaza, wildflower garden, and LOVE Sculpture Barn are completed, on-time and on-budget, and named for major donors. Preview Opening Gala, 11/11/95 for 800 guests is held, complete with record winds, afternoon heat, hail, lightning and by evening, heavy snow! November 24th, 1995 Grand Public Opening Day, Thanksgiving Weekend. Artist Gerald Hawkes first to enter Museum front door, followed by farmer and giant Whirligig maker, 76-year old Vollis Simpson. Throngs enthralled.


AVAM awarded prestigious National Award for Excellence from the Urban Land Institute, along with many other top design awards. Rave reviews of thematic shows, education materials, architecture and top floor gourmet café. Famed authors, humanitarians, scientists, actors, musicians and engineers are attracted from the start to visit, collaborate, and lend their visionary fresh thinking to enhance the thematic exhibitions and educational programming. Three employees from the local homeless shelter are hired and go on to own their own homes. AVAM's Founding Seven Education Goals and Mission Statement are included in the American Association book of Best Museum Practices. These Goals are beloved by teachers in many countries and were used, verbatim, to found NYC's Lower Eastside Girls Club.


AVAM brings Kinetic Sculpture Racing to the East Coast with blessing and presence of the original race “Glorious Founder” Hobart Brown.


AVAM begins America's largest youth-at-risk and youth incarcerated, mosaic apprenticeship program—artfully covering our museum’s exterior walls. Mosaic mentors include Beth Secor, Jack Livingston, Joe Wall, and Mari Gradner.


AVAM doubles its “Wonderland” campus to its current 1.1 acre footprint by developing a second sculpture plaza, adding a spectacular outdoor movie theater and renovating a large second whiskey warehouse that includes a well-equipped classroom and a top floor meeting center. The building is named after the inspirational social visionary, James Rouse Cho, Benn & Holbach are JRVC expansion architects. AVAM now has a total of 67,000 sq. ft. under roof in addition to its two outdoor sculpture plazas, wildflower meditation garden, the LeRoy E. Hoffberger Speaker’s Corner, an amphitheater and a popular summer movie theater. Museum Permanent Collection reaches 4,000+ works and includes works of art, the film archives of Light-Saraf films, videos, research and documents related to visionary art, thought and practice. Chicago legendary retailer, Ted Frankel, visits and fast returns to expand AVAM museum store. “Sideshow” opens.