Creating a Cultural Corridor: Freeport Art Museum Makes Bold Strokes

The foundational piece of Freeport’s growing cultural corridor is coming into place, and its leaders have big ideas for the future. What’s ahead? A big move, for one thing.

Executive Director Jessica Modica is overseeing the museum through a planned move to a new facility just off the Arts Plaza in downtown Freeport.

Art is a universal language. Whether it’s the graceful arc of a sculpture, heavy brush strokes on canvas or a stunning photograph, art speaks to us all. And for the residents of Freeport, the Freeport Art Museum and Arts Plaza are essential components of that language.

Jessica Modica, the museum’s executive director, is as passionate about the local art scene as she is knowledgeable. Her enthusiasm shines as she shares the ongoing journey of the Arts Plaza project. The development, which began in 2015, has had its share of hurdles, including supply chain issues, budget impasses and challenges brought on by the pandemic. Despite the setbacks, the plaza is blossoming into a thriving arts and cultural hub, with the final touches scheduled for completion in 2024.

The Freeport Art Museum now encompasses a permanent collection of nearly 4,000 pieces that hail from all around the world.

“The Arts Plaza has been evolving and in construction for a long time,” Modica says. “But the good news is we were able to complete some of the largest aspects of the project early on, which allowed us to start utilizing the plaza as intended. We’ve been able to use the plaza for about three years now.”

The plaza boasts a large pavilion with a splash pad that draws families during the hot summer months. It’s become a favorite place for families to relax, play and watch live music.

“It’s been a great addition to the downtown,” Modica says.

One of the most notable additions on its way to the plaza is the art screen, a massive mural screen with four large panels measuring 7 feet tall and 16 to 24 feet wide. Once in place, it will be used to showcase rotating artwork and exhibitions.

“This art screen will allow us to keep the space dynamic,” Modica says. “We can use it to display artwork from local and regional artists, or we can use it to showcase the exhibitions coming up at the museum.”

Construction on the art screen began in early August, and yet it isn’t even the final development within the plaza. There’s still more to come.

“We have one more piece coming in next year: we call it The Gateway,” Modica says. “It’s a huge piece of brightly colored sculpture that will act as a gate and donor wall.”

While the Arts Plaza is a valuable addition to the community, the Freeport Art Museum has been part of the city’s fabric since it opened in 1975.

“In 1976, we had the donation of our first collection. Since then, we’ve been able to build our collection to 4,000 pieces,” Modica says. “There’s quite a bit of pride in the fact that our museum has such an outstanding collection and that we present so many exciting and engaging exhibitions every year.”

The art museum is now gearing up for a significant change: the relocation of the museum itself.

“We’ve purchased a building right next to the Arts Plaza,” she says. “We have been looking for a way to move downtown for over two decades. We’re very excited to have the chance to finally do that.”

The new facility has a long, storied history, with original architectural details that will be showcased as part of the project.

“There’s some cool history that we intend to highlight throughout this adaptive reuse project,” Modica says. “The space itself was originally built in 1924 as a car showroom on the first floor, and they stored cars for the winter on the second level. We’re very proud that we can take this historic building and preserve it.”

The relocation will establish an arts and cultural campus in the downtown area, with the Freeport Public Library, Lincoln-Douglas Debate Square and Union Dairy adding to the effect.

“With the Arts Plaza and the new museum, we have a lot of synergy going on in our downtown right now; it’s an exciting time for arts and culture,” Modica says.

While relocation plans progress, Modica says she has not set an exact opening date. “I wish I could,” she says.

“It’s largely dependent on fundraising and how quickly we can get the $3 million project funded,” she adds. “We want to start phasing in a move in two years. We are set to start taking things out of the building and getting it ready. It’s going to be a busy construction season for us.”

Taken together, all of these pieces of arts and culture significantly impact Freeport’s identity.

“First and foremost, it’s about providing enrichment opportunities to as many people as we can,” Modica says. “And being in the Third Ward creates a great amount of access for more people to experience the arts. We know how much the arts contribute to economic development and revitalization. This project is part of our city’s ability to successfully drive the economy, especially downtown.”

While the museum adds immense value to the community, residents are eager to return the favor. As a privately funded organization, the Freeport Art Museum relies heavily on support from individuals and companies.

“Every year, we are sustained by our community through individual donations and grants,” she says. “We didn’t do any of this alone.”

In fact, Modica says those private contributions have been a critical piece of the fundraising effort.

“There are so many ways that our community has shown how much they value the arts. And, of course, the big one is financial support,” she says. “We were able to raise an incredible amount of money for the plaza from private donations – over $850,000 worth of private investment in the plaza project alone.”

Despite the positive momentum, the effects of the pandemic still linger. Like many nonprofit organizations, the museum faces persistent challenges in maintaining attendance.

“The world is different now,” Modica says. “We saw an incredible surge in attendance after things opened up, but now we’re seeing a decline in regular attendance.”

Modica and her team are testing different events and program formats to boost engagement and attract visitors.

The art museum team works hard to bring in works from local and non-local creators and Modica is particularly excited about the museum’s third annual BIPOC (black, indigenous, people of color) project happening this fall.

“This project is an initiative that we started because we noticed we didn’t have people of color participating in our exhibitions, nor did we see many people of color attending our openings,” she says. “We created this initiative to address that issue.”

While she’s pleased to see a wider variety of artists featured in the museum now, she hopes to attract more in future years.

“We appreciate their work, we value their work, and we love to see it here,” she says.
Exhibitions rotate every eight weeks, so there’s always something new and engaging to see.

“We have quite a bit to offer families right now,” Modica says, citing art camps and family painting activities as just a few examples. “We have scavenger hunts they can participate in, and we’re a free [donation-based] museum. We’ll soon be adding a creative station on one of our levels so families can come in with their kids and do an art activity based on something we’re featuring in the gallery.”

Reflecting on the journey so far, Modica is optimistic about the future of Freeport’s arts scene.
“What really drives us is being receptive to what our community needs from arts organizations,” she says. “The arts really do have an impact on people’s perception of the city.”