STOCKBRIDGE -- Thanks to its close ties with film mogul George Lucas of "Star Wars" fame, "the Force" is with the Norman Rockwell Museum.
Lucas, an avid Rockwell art collector, has donated $500,000 to the museum through his family foundation. The two-year gift is designated primarily for the museum's digital, online educational efforts aimed at reaching diverse, worldwide audiences, said Director and CEO Laurie Norton Moffatt.
"This comes out of our long-term artistic relationship with Lucas, his collection and his evolving museum," Norton Moffatt explained in an Eagle interview Thursday. She cited the filmmaker's "understanding of the power of storytelling art ... a wonderful way of engagement and learning for youth."
Lucas is in the early stages of designing his own Museum of Narrative Art in Chicago.
The producer-director, who has also created a separate educational foundation, is dedicated to "helping all children be successful, particularly through visually based learning," the museum director said, "opening their world so they become socially and emotionally competent to be successful in life."
After selling his Lucasfilm company to The Walt Disney Co. for a reported $4 billion in 2012, Lucas pledged to give away half of his fortune to nonprofits. "For 41 years, the majority of my time and money has been put into the company," he told the Hollywood Reporter trade publication last May. "As I start a new chapter in my life, it is gratifying that I have the opportunity to devote more time and resources to philanthropy."
Lucas, who has visited the Stockbridge museum, has previously donated on a more modest level, Norton Moffatt said. "This is a major investment in a program we hope to make even more nationally successful in line with the Common Core educational standards, something that Rockwell's pictures reflect," she added.
She listed new interactive tools "so we might teach people what a town meeting is, what civil discourse is. When you can take that lesson plan into the classroom, you could have interactive links to Rockwell's illustrations of democracy in action, to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights."
"We can bring these things to life in nearly every classroom in the country, using digital tools and the Internet, even to the whole world," she declared. "We can connect our digital collection in an interactive way for students and teachers, using the historical events depicted in Rockwell's pictures."
The museum's educational activities on-site and at area schools also would benefit from the gift, whose primary aim is to help modernize its online content delivery system to reach a more diverse, larger group of students, teachers and lifelong learners.
Norton Moffatt has discussed with Lucas how his donation will be deployed as part of the museum's ongoing $2 million campaign to upgrade digital access.
"He loves Rockwell's art ... narrative art is his special passion," she said, "since he's one of the great storytellers of our time through his imaginative, magical world. He sees a long lineage of storytelling through the ages, and Rockwell is the most emblematic storyteller of the past century."
The partnership between the museum and the filmmaker results from a belief that Rockwell's art cuts across generations and cultures to communicate ideals of community service, family, human rights and civil responsibility, in order to enrich school curriculums and broadening cultural awareness.
"It was Norman Rockwell's wish that his collection be used to educate and engage the broadest of audiences," Norton Moffatt said.
"A gift like this is so munificent and magnificent, it can catapult our programming nationally," she said.
The Rockwell museum attracts 125,000 visitors a year to its 34-acre property, but also reaches about 350,000 visitors to the 12 museums across the country that display its traveling collection. The museum's multiple web portals are consulted by an additional 500,000 online users, according to statistics provided by Norton Moffatt.
Out of an annual $4.5 million budget, about one-quarter of the museum's resources go to maintaining the site's buildings and acreage, she said.
At a Glance ...
Annual visitors to Stockbridge site: 125,000
Annual visitors to traveling collection at 12 museums: 350,000
Annual online visits to Rockwell Museum web portals: 500,000
Budget, 2014: $4.5 million (including $500,000 capital depreciation)
Visitors since 1969: 6 million
Online users, total: 2 million
Source: Norman Rockwell Museum.