In a White House ceremony Wednesday, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in North Miami joined an elite group of just 69 museums to be awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Service - one the nation's top seals of approval for museums and libraries.
"Well, I guess you could compare it to the Emmy's or Oscars," said Susan Hildreth, Director of the Institute for Museum and Library Service.
The IMLS is part of the Executive Branch and works with "sister" organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. According to the institute, it's the "primary source of federal support for the nation's 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums."
Since 1994, the IMLS has recognized museums that display "innovative approaches to public service, exceeding the expected levels of community outreach."
Libraries were folded into the mix six years later and the National Medal for Museum and Library Service was fully formed.
Hildreth said MOCA stood out for its creative array of art education programs: from dropout prevention to gang deterrence to support for at-risk teen girls.
"We often see programs that work with young men who are having challenges with success in their teens and not as many working with teen girls and women," Hildreth said. "That's something that MOCA did and I think is really very unique."
MOCA's Women On The Rise program is a hands-on, customized art history approach to reach teen girls who have been incarcerated, abused or are expectant mothers. Local female artists are enlisted to mentor the young women artistically and to teach them about contemporary artists who have wrestled with themes and ideas the girls can relate to.
"They don't need to be an artist," said Bonnie Clearwater, MOCA's director and chief curator. "It is a way of exposing them, giving them an opportunity to different techniques in order to deal with these variety of issues."
North Miami, MOCA's home city, is predominantly black, foreign born and known for its Haitian-American population.
IMLS Director Susan Hildreth said of MOCA, "they're working with a very diverse population and I think they're helping both honor the diversity of individuals in the neighborhood and also help those individuals become more familiar with the culture of Miami or American cultures."