STOCKBRIDGE — Illustrious filmmaker and "Star Wars" creator George Lucas is showing the Norman Rockwell Museum a lot of love — again.
An avid collector of the artist's illustrations who has visited the museum several times, Lucas has rocketed $1.5 million to pump up the facility's Digital Learning and Engagement Division. The three-year grant announced last week is through the George Lucas Family Foundation.
Fueled by a $500,000 gift two years ago, the museum is developing a range of multimedia experiences for Rockwell admirers at the museum or online, as well as for traveling exhibitions.
Calling the grant "transformational," Museum Director and CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt explained that Lucas has "long been inspired by Rockwell's work, particularly as a storyteller, and you can see the link to his own stories in films."
In a phone interview, Norton Moffatt lauded his "incredible generosity" and "dedication to youth education and a wide range of experiences for young people."
She pointed out that Lucas has written about his lack of engagement while at school — "he didn't feel that he got learning that inspired him."
County schools, led by the Berkshire Hills Regional School District based in Great Barrington, will be the first users of the new multimedia material as the museum works with regional educators to supplement art classes with Rockwell-related content.
Lucas has been a collector of Rockwell's art for most of his professional life as a filmmaker going back to the 1970s, Norton Moffatt explained. "He has assembled an important collection of Rockwell's work, particularly works of narrative nature that tell a good story," she said. "Like Rockwell, George Lucas is a genius storyteller himself, and he finds inspiration in Rockwell telling a story in one frame."
Among his many collected art works is Rockwell's greatly admired "Saying Grace." The filmmaker's collection is destined for presentation in the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, planned for a site in San Francisco or Los Angeles.
Norton Moffatt described the filmmaker as "passionately devoted to finding new ways of inspiring young people to learn. Combined with his deep dedication and admiration for Rockwell, he has viewed us as a learning partner, keeping the Rockwell legacy alive and available to all."
The grant will support what she called a highly significant traveling exhibition that the museum will announce later this fall.
Highlights of the interactive educational projects funded by Lucas include:
• A digital gallery-tour, using virtual and augmented reality technologies, accessible from mobile devices;
• An online curriculum-collaborative;
• A new K–12 curriculum;
• A national social-media campaign targeting young people;
• A comprehensive online media hub with podcasts, interviews, lectures, student galleries and other features.
According to the museum's announcement, the new digital and interactive tools will become "essential educational resources that will enhance the understanding and appreciation of the Rockwell Museum's permanent collection and special exhibitions, as well as the art of illustration."
Norton Moffatt recalled Norman Rockwell's wish that "his collection be used to educate and engage the broadest of audiences." She depicted the Lucas grant as "bringing us that much closer to achieving his wish."
The immediate priority is the museum's Curriculum Collaborative and Curriculum Lab, which will begin design and development in November, with the goal of testing in March, and going live late next summer to align with exhibition development.
The Lab distributes links to schools for Rockwell collection topics such as civil rights, civil discourse and democracy. Offerings range from focused five-minute activities, to day-long, week-long or semester-long projects allowing multi-disciplinary engagement and learning.
The collaborative will accommodate teachers' needs by clearly aligning all material to state and federal education standards for all 50 states.
The museum first opened in 1969 in downtown Stockbridge and relocated to 36 acres on a former estate in the Glendale neighborhood in 1993.
From June 30, 2015, to July 1, 2016, attendance totaled 130,353.
It has attracted more than six million visitors locally over 47 years, and more than five million more to traveling exhibitions. Online visitors to collections and educational resources total more than two million.
The digital focus at the museum stems from a drive "to broaden the reach of the museum and make our work available to everyone everywhere," stated Norton Moffatt. "The impact of technology on how people interact with information today is constantly changing and we want to prepared to accommodate those changes, because media and technology is where more and more young audiences are choosing to be engaged."
But, she emphasized, "This does not lessen our desire for people to experience and appreciate art firsthand. It does acknowledge that only so many people will visit the Berkshires. Norman Rockwell is a national icon and we want to be sure everyone, everywhere can enjoy and experience his work, which is one reason we travel our collections to other cities."
Distance-learning projects with schools, colleges and senior centers are being planned, eventually in partnership with nationwide organizations such as the National Association of Primary and Secondary School Principals. The projects are set to start this winter.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.
If you go . . .
What: Norman Rockwell Museum
When: Open every day year-round, except Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Day. October hours: Daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Nov.-April: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends and holidays
Where: 9 Glendale Road (Route 183), Stockbridge
Admission: $18 ($17 seniors, $10 students, $6 children and teens 6 to 18; free to members and children 5 and under)
Information: www.nrm.org or 413-298-4100