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Art as a Community Investment

NEVAmuseum offers space for all types of artists

A work of heart for decades, the New England Visionary Artists Museum (NEVAmuseum) offers space to artists who may not typically find a space to showcase their work. 

“I like to think of the whole life of the project as simply an imagined thing; it has been built on a shared vision,” explained Michael Tillyer, who serves as co-director of the museum with his partner Susan Foley. “It is evident that this work has led to something concrete, and its voice is the artists who have used it.”

The museum’s groundbreaking work has five main purposes: subsidize artists with neurodiverse conditions, conserve and research regional self-taught and visionary art, give artists the chance to self-stage exhibitions, celebrate new music and performance and provide art education to income-sensitive citizens.

After it grew, Tillyer noticed that the work was being viewed by the public “through the lens of mental defect.”

“I sensed the growing need among community artists in our region for open space to show without the restraint of the selective gallery system that was primarily commercially motivated, so I began to invite established neurotypical community artists to show here,” explained Tillyer. ”Thus, we achieved three things: integration within the regional creative community, an exhibition platform free from commercial restraints, and a center where everyone with a creative idea ready for success has a shot. What exists today is the off-center art center we refer to as the best, least-known gallery space in all the region because no one seems to know about us until they walk through our door at the less pleasant end of Pleasant Street.”

It all began in 1997 as Anchor House of Artists. As the years passed, the business received more small grants and community contributions that allowed it to grow from a 500-square-foot space to the 4000 square feet it occupies currently that offers five showrooms, a performance area, shared studio space and classroom space.

“Increasingly, it dawned on us that with our growing collection of artwork and life stories behind it, we had a museum with an expanded mission to steward, archive, research, and present these to the public,” recalled Tillyer. “In 2017, we put the new moniker, The New England Visionary Artists Museum, on the street, NEVAmuseum, and in June 2023, we incorporated it as a 501(c)(3) charitable organization.”

This spring offers a wide range of collections for art lovers to view. Galleries 1 and 2 will host Mari Jean Champagne’s “expressionist, emotional mixed media artworks” and the museum wing will have a display by Becky Smith, Crying in the Wilderness: An Immigrant's Journey in Detention. Washington State-based poet and anthologist Susan Rich will bring a poetry reading with Amherst College professor Kirun Kapur and Salem College professor and recent director of the Massachusetts Poetry Festival in the experimental performance arena.

NEVAmuseums’ investment in the art of an underserved community is crucial to the development of the community as a whole. 

“American people are generally unaware of how museums stay open, how artists thrive, or how both play a role more essential to their nation than entertainment. Distraction and pleasure are important, but art is a vehicle for messaging about critical issues,” explained Tillyer. “Artists are great at singing praises, but they sound alarms, too. It is harder to like distressing or ugly art, but suppressing the cry of misery is perilous because healing cannot occur in silence.”

NEVAmuseum is located at 518 Pleasant St. in Northampton. For more information on the museum and its shows visit or call 413-588-4337.

  • The experimental performance space at NEVAmuseum.
  • One of the many exhibits at NEVAmuseum.