The first time Jason T. Busch walked into a New York City museum, it was December of 1996 and he was a graduate student visiting from the University of Delaware. He had no way of knowing he would one day be director of that very institution—the American Folk Art Museum.
“I took the subway all the way down to Battery Park, and I spent the entire day walking Broadway, just taking in the skyline and the activity on the streets. By the time it got to the late afternoon, I decided it was time to go inside. As fate would have it, the place I went into was the art museum at Lincoln Square. To now be, 25 years later, director of the museum, is just a dream come true,” says Busch.
The American Folk Art Museum is New York City’s only museum dedicated to folk and self-taught artists. Admission is always free, which Busch says is central to its ethos.
“When that experience comes at a price, we compromise the ability of individuals to appreciate that. If people can get to our museum, we open those doors to anyone.”
From an early age, Busch was drawn to exactly the sort of works that line the walls of the museum he now directs. His mother was deeply interested in Americana, and frequently took him to antique stores and flea markets growing up. He has a strong visual memory of a coverlet, new but based on a painting titled “Situation of America, 1848.” Painted in 1848 by an unknown artist, it depicts a view of Brooklyn off of the docks with a steamship and a train visible in the background, as well as goods such as cotton bales and sugar barrels likely traveling to NYC from southern states. Busch’s mother purchased the coverlet and hung it on the wall of their family home in Cleveland.
When he enrolled in graduate school as a student of mid-19th century art history, he occasionally thought back to the coverlet and wondered if it had informed his decision. In a moment of unusual synchronicity, he found many years later that the original work hangs in the American Folk Art Museum.
“To see the genuine candid picture that I had grown up was such a moving experience, and it’s that kind of experience that I want to foster and my colleagues do for guests every day,” Busch recalls fondly.
As an undergraduate, Busch initially entered college with the intention of studying to become a professor of American history. Today, he marries his passion for the history of this country and others with his love of the visual arts, as director of a museum whose exhibits tell countless stories from the United States and beyond.
Busch’s dedication to his work and his passion for the arts extend far beyond work hours. In his free time, it’s no surprise that Busch’s favorite pastimes are visiting museums and exploring New York City.
“I have a voracious appetite for consuming art, and I make it a point to get around and see as many exhibitions in museums [as I can],” says Busch. “I love this city more than I love anywhere else in the world, and I love that this city continues to embrace people to come here, to visit here, to live here.”