About Us


The Museum

The John J. McDonough Museum of Art, founded in 1991, is the University Art Museum for Youngstown State University and the Valley’s Premier Center for Contemporary Art. Internationally known architects Gwathmey Siegel & Associates, who worked together with the then local firm Ricciuti, Buchanan and Balog, designed the 20,000 square foot facility. Paul Ricciuti participated in the dedication ceremony held on October 26, 1991. The Museum stands as a testament to Modernist Design in its simplicity and sensitivity to the site. Gwathmey was known for his ability to create buildings that “seamlessly blend into the urban fabric.” The interior galleries and transitional areas are lit by skylights that offer, on their own, shifting aesthetic experiences for the visitor, and appear from the outside as sculptural elements within the overall design. It is a pleasure and a privilege to work in this discrete and elegantly ordered space — by virtue of its inherent beauty and openness, it reminds us everyday why we are there — it’s about the present and the future.

The Museum features changing exhibitions, installations, performances and lectures by regional, national and international artists. It also functions as public outreach for the College of Creative Arts and Communication and the Department of Art, exhibiting work by students, faculty and alumni. In addition, the Museum offers free lectures, performances and programs organized in collaboration with various departments on campus and the community at large.

The Man

In 1978, when Dr. John J. McDonough sold his collection of American paintings, Sotheby’s, the auction house that handled the sale, called it a “landmark auction.” At the time, it was the largest sale of American Art by a single collector and became national news. The 63 works McDonough had carefully selected over the previous 12 years formed, according to Thomas Norton, “an almost comprehensive cross-section of the principal artists, themes and periods of representational American Art.” Indeed, the collection was exhibited at major museums across the country before it was dispersed.

Within months of the sale, Dr. McDonough began to form an even finer collection of American Art, this time focusing his attention on the 50 year period between 1875 and 1925. This collection, numbering about 100 painting, earned McDonough the designation “the quintessentially focused collector” by John L. Marion, who conducted the Sotheby auction. “McDonough is thoroughly familiar with the period and has selected carefully and knowledgeably, making his collection a jewel of the art world.”

Despite the fact that many of his paintings increased in value over time, Dr. McDonough said that he did not collect art as a financial investment. “I think paintings should be loved and enjoyed,” he said, “and I don’t think they should be bought for sale and profit, really. You should go into the stock market for that.”

Dr. John J. McDonough belonged to a Youngstown philanthropic tradition dating back over a century, visionaries like Edward Powers, Henry Stambaugh, Joseph Butler, Volney Rogers, to name but a few. An outstanding art collector in his time, Dr. McDonough wanted to ensure YSU had adequate means to foster the growth of interest in what artists of our time have to say to all of us about our shared human experience.

The Gift

In response to the University’s need for exhibition space, YSU, the College of Creative Arts and Communication and the Department of Art got so much more. Dr. John J. McDonough, a Youngstown physician and avid art collector, offered the proceeds of the sale of his painting “Gloucester Harbor” by Childe Hassam to help fund construction of a new building. With additional monies raised with the help of Attorney Paul M Dutton and from the State of Ohio, construction of the Museum began in the fall of 1990 and the building was dedicated on October 26, 1991.

The Architects

In the summer of 1987, architect Paul J. Ricciuti approached New York Architect Charles Gwathmey, FAIA to be the Design Architect for the proposed John J. McDonough Museum of Art at Youngstown State University. Mr. Gwathmey agreed and his firm Gwathmey Siegel became part of the architectural team that was selected by Dr. McDonough and the University to design the Museum. As a Youngstown native, Mr. Ricciuti’s vision of the proposed museum was a modern design statement as a counterpoint to the classic Butler Institute of American Art. The selection of Gwathmey brought to Youngstown an internationally known Architect who worked in the modernist movement.

Robert Siegal recently sent us this statement:

The design of projects at Gwathmey Siegal & Associates Architects has been and is to a great extent influenced by context, the site and the neighboring buildings.

In the case of the McDonough Museum of Art, the surrounding buildings were large scale elements and the space between was limited in size. It provoked the idea of fragmentation, creating a building that appeared to be sculptural objects in a garden setting rather than a small building set in between larger buildings. It utilized the principle of counterpoint.

Site specific references to other projects include the expansion of the Guggenheim Museum. In this case the idea was to form a backdrop, an anchor for the curved sculptural masterpiece previously created by Frank Lloyd Wright as well as to create flexible flat floor exhibition space in comparison to the sloped ramp exhibition space in the rotunda. Counterpoint used in a different way.

Another example highly influenced by the context would be the Henry Art Center at the University of Washington in Seattle. The form of the Museum is generated in response to its entrance which is from the elevated Campus level. The massing of building is downward toward the street grade which provides for views over it from the Campus level as well as views from the statue of George Washington which rises from the Campus level. The building was conceived as a foothill to the Campus.

Some projects are designed to extend the context, be harmonious in scale massing but unique in the details and responsive to programmatic requirements. An example of this is the recently completed 60 story Setai Hotel and Condominium Tower on 5th Avenue in New York City, which sits next to the Historical Landmarked 13-story mid-rise buildings. The building massing includes a base building element designed to sit comfortable next to the Landmark buildings, similar in height, sympathetic use of materials and fenestration. It is a contemporary reinterpretation of historical notation, not a copy. The Tower is set back from the base so as to mitigate its presence at the pedestrian level.


The mission of the McDonough Museum of Art reinforces the mission of the College of Creative Arts and Communication and Youngstown State University in recognizing the need to support both cultural values and academic excellence.

Consistent with Youngstown’s efforts toward redefinition and relevance, together with YSU’s newly formed strategic plan, the McDonough, the University’s Center for Contemporary Art, has established four key objectives:

  1. To function as a partner in all aspects of its programming by strengthening existing partnerships and developing new ones. We intend to promote heuristic processes vital to collaboration creating an environment for greater transparency.

  2. To serve as a unique center for public engagement, the McDonough is the logical locus for a campus and community-wide open forum for ongoing collaborative efforts. Within this working lab for shared investigations, we will explore the potential for unknown possibilities redefining the role of the artist/designer in the re-imagining and re-inventing process of the city.

  3. To further articulate the public value of aesthetic experiences as important opportunities for knowing the complex and often ambiguous world we live in. To measure the public value of aesthetic experience by looking at creative capital, entrepreneurship, civic belonging and urban identity.

  4. It is ultimately our goal as a University Museum dedicated to the display and commission of contemporary art to function as a catalyst for new knowledge, to play a central role in the exploration of the aesthetic dimension of human intelligence, and to substantially affect the way the arts contribute to education and public life.

Our Vision

Mattering is Key to Innovation:

A Model for Civic Engagement in the McDonough Museum of Art

All over the US people are revitalizing and reinventing their cities by developing new social, economic, cultural and environmental models. The greatest innovation is coming, as it always does, from places in transition like Youngstown.

Over the past 10 years, the John J. McDonough Museum of Art has engaged in the process of transformation as a mode of operation. Civic engagement and community commitment have become defining roles for this University Art Museum as we move toward mattering. Mattering for us is local and reciprocal. We care about what matters to this community, and to better understand what that is, we are building programs together. Our process is based on inquiry — asking questions around what people care about in this time, our time. Ultimately we are asking if our investigations might lead to substantial changes in the way the arts contribute to education and public life.

In a forever-changed post-9/11 world, the American Alliance of Museums joined hundreds of publicly engaged nonprofit organizations to examine carefully their connections to community. The AAM has called for new models to provide foundations for the next step in becoming relevant and vital centers for civic engagement. We have answered that call but in a way that radically repositions the institution by industry standards. In conventional museum practice, no matter how experimental, the institution comes first. Like other university art museums that are non-collecting institutions, we are free, as academic entities, to push the limits and expectations of our profession beyond what we know, and at the same time, expand the context for our academic programs.

To choose mattering, responding to a known basic human need as the foundation for relationship building, we open the museum to unknown possibilities. By putting the community first, our mission is adjusted program by program. Each time we build something together with the community, our consciousness is expanded and as a result, how we think about and see ourselves in the world is changed by every experience.

Leslie A. Brothers