Kassandra Timothe wasn’t an arts-minded 14-year-old when she started volunteering as a junior docent at the Museum of Contemporary Art in North Miami.
But over the past eight years, she has become a staple at the organization in a variety of roles. And next week, the recent University of South Florida graduate will join MOCA executive director and chief curator Bonnie Clearwater at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. to receive a National Medal for Museum and Library Service.
The award was announced Monday.
Given by the Institute of Museum and Library services, a federal agency, the award is the highest honor in the country granted to museums and libraries for service to their communities.
“It taught me that art was more than just a picture on a wall,” said Timothe, now a legislative aide for a member of the Tampa City Council. “It was life-changing for me. I appreciate it.”
That kind of involvement with the surrounding community — including programs that focus on literacy, dropout prevention and outreach to girls in juvenile detention centers — made the museum stand out, said Susan Hildreth, director of the institute.
“Overall, this museum has done a tremendous amount to really engage with their community, and that’s something that’s really important to us,” Hildreth said. “It’s the hallmark of museums that are really going to continue to be relevant in the 21st century, to know and serve your community.”
Bonnie Clearwater, the museum’s executive director and chief curator, said Monday that the museum’s goal is to reach as wide an audience as possible with risk-taking contemporary art.
“Everything we do is education,” she said. “Exhibitions are education, outreach is education, public programming is education, even our membership programs are education-focused.”
She called the recognition, which comes with a $5,000 grant, “a true honor.”
“It validates our history, it validates what we are doing and it makes our job actually easier to say you know what, we’re doing it right,” she said.
The nine other recipients of the award are Bootheel Youth Museum, Malden, Mo.; Contra Costa County Library, Pleasant Hill, Calif.; Cumberland County Public Library, Fayetteville, N.C.; Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago, Ill.; Long Island Children’s Museum, Garden City, N.Y.; Naturita Community Library, Naturita, Colo.; Pacific Science Center, Seattle, Wash.; Park View High School Library Media Center, Sterling, Va. and Shaler North Hills Library, Glenshaw, Pa.