In 1944, World War II was raging and the fear of future loomed large as hundreds of young lives were being lost daily. Life was radically changed in Cambridge and in some ways, routine. Charles Hurley and Michael Needham were Cambridge’s delegates to the Democratic National Convention, Harold Edgerton was doing aerial photography at MIT, Nobel Prize winner in Medicine, Herbert Gasser came to Harvard to speak and the art faculty at the Cambridge Rindge Technical School was creating art. Grande Dame of Cambridge, Mrs. Kingsley Porter decided to organize an art auction of works created and donated by local artists to raise money for the war effort in winter. The auction was a huge success and money raised was used to send care packages for the troops.
Pleased with her success, Mrs. Porter (who sadly, had lost her husband on their honeymoon in a Scottish bog!) decided to organize a permanent art association in Cambridge, with the help of her great friend, Mr. Doyle, Director of Art in Cambridge Public Schools. They rented a small space behind the Coop in Harvard Square on Church Street, laid floor boards, installed and painted walls, and jerry rigged some lighting for the opening. They obtained a non profit charter and sought members for the Cambridge Art Association (CAA). In June 1944, paid for with the $2 annual dues, CAA held the first annual meeting and Mr. J. Louis Doyle was elected President.
The fledgling agency got a major boost in 1946, the year of Cambridge’s Centennial, when CAA was chosen to present an exhibition at the Busch-Reisinger Museum, attended by over 5,000 people. This early prestige established CAA as a leading community art agency CAA’s years ahead offered Cambridge’s main art center — art lovers and artists filled the next home on Garden Street .
More than seventy years later and three different moves to homes in and around Harvard Square, CAA now has over 450 artists from all over New England, offers extensive programs for its members and the community and has welcomed the directors of Guggenheim and Whitney in New York, Museum Fine Arts Boston, National Portrait Gallery in D.C., and Institute of Contemporary Art in Chicago as jurors for regional and national Prize Shows. For 20 years, CAA presented a special-needs student art exhibition, The Art of Love, in its satellite gallery in Harvard Square, University Place Gallery.
A diverse group of CAA Board of Directors share the philosophy and mission statement, renewed in 2015:
It is the mission of the Cambridge Art Association to build a vibrant community through visual art: connecting individuals and facilitating dialogue among artists and art lovers of all backgrounds.
In the last fifteen years, CAA has established the Maud Morgan Circle of Donors and an endowment fund, received funds for a named directorship and the naming of the Lowell Street Gallery (both, from generous donors). The gallery on Lowell Street, which became CAA’s home in 1980 was renovated with a gift from an anonymous donor and matching funds, given to honor Norma Jean Calderwood Director Kathryn Schultz’ 20 years at CAA.
In 2016, CAA continues to promote and support local art and artists, through exhibitions, workshops and other events. Since 2008, CAA has offered an annual Portfolio Review day for artists, where leading curators and gallery owners review artists’ work. Over the past decade, CAA has presented twelve National Prize Shows that have brought artists’ work from 48 states to Cambridge; offered 3rd Thursdays sessions, free to members, and focused on professional development; a monthly focus group on artists and art topics; and now present the most exciting and diverse art in CAA’s history. As we look to the future of the organization, we embrace our past successes. The best is yet to come. Come celebrate with us.