Toledo Museum of Art: A Treasure Trove of Culture and Community

Rhonda Sewell, Alan Bannister, Jonathan Bridges, Franklin County Commissioner Kevin Boyce at CBC Foundation Annual Legislative Conference

By Asia Nail
The Truth Reporter

Nestled in the heart of Toledo, Ohio’s art district, our Museum of Art stands as a testament to the enduring power of culture and community. Ranked among the country’s top 15 art museums, it has pleasantly surprised countless visitors with its astonishing array of treasures from across the ages.

“Museums are sanctuaries of knowledge, offering us insight into the human experience in all its complexity,” says Rhonda Sewell, TMA’s director of Belonging and Community Engagement.

Sewell brought a wealth of talent and experience to the Toledo Museum of Art and has been making a profound impact on everyone’s understanding of the museum’s role within the community.


Rhonda Sewell and Congresswoman Emilia Sykes

Cultural Enrichment

Arts and culture are vital components of a society’s identity and heritage. They enrich our lives and communities by providing opportunities for artistic expression, creativity, and the celebration of diverse traditions. “Advocating for the arts ensures that these essential aspects of our culture are nurtured and preserved for future generations,” explains Sewell.

Museums are, in essence, time machines, transporting us to eras long gone, allowing us to bear witness to the wonders and tragedies of our shared history.

Yet, the importance of museums extends far beyond the mere preservation of heirlooms. For the African diaspora specifically, these institutions become bridges connecting generations, weaving a narrative thread that binds the struggles and triumphs of the past to the aspirations and hope for the present.


Education and Lifelong Learning

“Our museum is not just a repository of artifacts; it’s a living, breathing testimony to resilience and cultural identity,” shares Sewell.

Our Toledo Museum of Art is a beacon of hope, charged with a profound mission: to define, interpret, preserve, retain and refine the values and visions that have sustained our Toledo community through centuries of adversity, from the darkest days of slavery to the struggles of segregation and now, equality.

Alan Bannister, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, Rhonda Sewell, Dr. Moshood Martins

It stands as an important keeper of our global heritage, embodying the collective memory of all people who have endured and triumphed.

In the vast tapestry of Toledo history, our museum and its galleries serve as portals to our shared past. While no museum can claim to provide a complete picture, our very own offers invaluable lessons from the archives of time—lessons that resonate with people of all backgrounds.

Adam Levine, the Museum’s Edward Drummond and Florence Scott Libbey Director and CEO, expressed his enthusiasm for Rhonda Sewell’s director appointment, highlighting her leadership and unwavering commitment to community causes.

“Mr. Levine told me the museum board took notice of my dedication to diversity, equity and accessibility,” says Sewell. “The moment I began my new role at the museum I knew my career path had not only prepared me for this position, but it also perfectly aligned with the museum’s strategic vision.”

In her own words, Rhonda Sewell describes her role at the Toledo Museum of Art as a “career capstone position” that embodies her beliefs and values. She sees this role as an opportunity to foster transformational change and impactful growth, ensuring that the museum embraces everyone related to it and the broader community.


Congressman Bob Latta and Rhonda Sewell

Education and Lifelong Learning

Arts and culture play a pivotal role in education. They foster critical thinking, creativity, and imagination in students of all ages.

Sewell’s educational background is as diverse as her career, with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from Michigan State University and graduate studies in International Journalism at the City University of London in England.

Rhonda Sewell’s role as director of Belonging has been instrumental in reimagining TMA’s approach to community outreach. Her career journey is impressive, reflecting her unwavering commitment to community betterment. Previously serving as director of Governmental and External Affairs for the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, Sewell tirelessly engaged with legislators and community stakeholders, advocating for library funding and systems change.

Prior to that, she had a remarkable 18-year career as an award-winning journalist for The Blade newspaper, with assignments spanning six countries. Her contributions also extend to academia, where she served as an adjunct instructor in ethnic studies and mass communications at Bowling Green State University.


Ohio Crew at the CBC Foundation

Democracy and Civic Engagement

Arts and culture can be vehicles for exploring social and political issues, encouraging civic engagement, and promoting dialogue. They provide a platform for individuals to express their views and contribute to a vibrant democracy.

“Experiences, like my recent attendance at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Annual Legislative Conference (CBCFALC), reflect my multi-faceted role at the museum,” Sewell explains.

In her capacity as Director of Belonging, Sewell ardently immerses herself in governmental affairs, fervently advocating for the continued vitality and support of arts and culture.

“During the CBCFALC Conference, I met with northwest Ohio members of Congress and their aides to discuss funding in addition to the museum’s objectives,” says Sewell.

“I have a sincere appreciation for the arts and culture’s role in shaping public policy.”

In her thankfulness, Sewell acknowledges the pivotal role played by her colleague Alan Bannister, who possesses many personal relationships within the political arena. As former Toledo mayoral executive assistant, Alan Bannister has an extensive background in civic engagement and diversity and inclusivity outreach.

“Having access to my colleagues and decision-makers both really amplified the impact of my advocacy efforts,” explains Sewell. “I appreciate all involved and the hospitality that was shown to me.”


Rhonda Sewell and Hill Harper

Health and Well-being

Championing the cause of arts and culture directly with legislators, policymakers, and influencers, effectively conveys the importance of funding and the policies that support the arts. In this context, Sewell’s experience becomes emblematic of how personal connections and strategic networking can be powerful tools in advancing any cause.

Engagement with the arts has also been shown to have positive effects on mental health and well-being. Arts programs can be therapeutic and healing, making them a valuable resource for addressing public health challenges.


Economic Impact

Under Sewell’s advocacy, the museum’s collection is both flourishing and diversified.

“We are engaging the community in an array of meaningful experiences as well,” explains Sewell. “This year’s block party is a great example. It was the largest and most diverse it’s ever been; a testament to our commitment to community engagement.”

The arts and cultural sector is a significant contributor to the economy. Museums, theaters, galleries, and cultural events generate jobs, attract tourism, and stimulate local businesses. Supporting the arts is not just a cultural investment but also an economic one, driving economic growth and sustainability.

The Toledo Museum of Art continues to evolve with a focus on quality art acquisitions and nurturing cultural partnerships, too. Music has also found its place within the museum’s walls, with a peristyle auditorium hosting musical programs, including performances by the Toledo Symphony.


Preservation of Heritage

The museum’s dedication to art education has remained steadfast. Since 1919, TMA has housed an art school, collaborating closely with the University of Toledo. The university’s Center for the Visual Arts was built adjacent to the museum, fostering a vibrant hub of artistic learning and creativity.

Over the past two decades, the museum’s collections have been meticulously cataloged and shared with the world through scholarly publications, ensuring that the wealth of knowledge and culture within its walls is accessible to all.

The Toledo Museum of Art is more than just a repository of art; it is a living testament to the power of community, culture, and the enduring legacy of those who believe that art belongs to everyone. We thank you, Rhonda Sewell, for the work you are doing and for the positive impact you’re making on our community at large. As visitors walk through the TMA halls, they are not only greeted by masterpieces from across the ages but also by the spirit of inclusivity and the celebration of human creativity.

A visit to the Toledo Museum of Art reveals a treasure—a beacon of culture, art, and the indomitable spirit of community.

Follow Rhonda Sewell and  the Toledo Museum of Art on social media to get involved and for event updates.