Judy Garland Museum
Judy Garland Executive Director Janie Heitz, Board Member Melanie Jacobson, Second Harvest Executive Director Sue Estee, and Second Harvest Development Director Trisha Zimmerman take a photo with the art exhibit and relief funds donated by HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.

The Judy Garland Museum received a $10,000 grant from HBO’s news satire and late-night talk show, “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.”

The John Oliver COVID Relief grant came about as a way to help museums that were struggling during last year’s lockdowns. At the start of the pandemic, Oliver, a comedian with a fondness for weird art, purchased three paintings that could be considered strange or risque.

In October 2020, Oliver announced that five museums would be chosen to host the trio of eclectic art pieces called the Last Week Tonight Masterpiece Gallery. The museums chosen for the exhibit would receive the $10,000 grant as well as a $10,000 donation to a local food bank.

At the time, the Judy Garland Museum was looking for additional funding sources to replace lost revenue after being closed due to the pandemic. 

A museum board member saw the episode of Last Week Tonight where Oliver announced its plan for COVID relief. In a time of need, the museum decided to submit an application for the grant. In the application letter, it stated that the museum could not promote the more-controversial piece included in the collection due to the museum’s child-friendly nature.

Although it was clear the museum would need to create an appropriate solution to appease visitors, the Judy Garland Museum was announced as one of the recipients of the grant on Aug. 25. The additional $10,000 will go directly to Second Harvest North Central Food Bank in Grand Rapids.

The museum was able to work with the show’s producers to present the one painting in a family-friendly manner that adds an element of comic relief.

The art exhibit will begin its tour at the Judy Garland Museum from Sept. 7 - 28. Tickets will be available for purchase at the door. No tickets will be available for purchase in advance. The Last Week Tonight Masterpiece Gallery will be located in the museum’s Judy Garland Gallery.

According to Director Janie Heitz, the museum has received more than 50 calls inquiring about the exhibit since it was announced last month. They’ve field calls from people as far as Ohio looking to buy tickets to the exhibit.

Other grant recipients include the Museum of Broadcast Communications, the American Visionary Art Museum, the Williams V. Banks Broadcast Museum & Media Center, and the Cartoon Art Museum.

The Judy Garland Museum is open seven days-a-week from 10 a.m. - 5 p.m. For more information, call (218) 327-9276.

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