The Erie Art Museum began as the Art Club of Erie in 1898.

It has been a focus of art and culture ever since, with many changes over the years.

And the museum has really been changing in the past year.

The museum has a dozen galleries spread over five connected downtown Erie buildings.

Curator Susan Barnett believes the museum plays a critical role in our region.

She said, "I think it is an essential part of the community. I think it is the center of the community's cultural life, or heartbeat."

New Executive Director Josh Helmer says his goal is to make the museum and the collections accessible.

He said, "A lot of time museums have the stigma of elitism . One thing we are going for is to just open it up for everyone."

A lot more visitors are now enjoying the museum, and its more than 8300 works of art. Attendance is up significantly in recent months.

Helmer said, "Overall we have seen a 600% increase in attendance from July-November as opposed to this time last year."

The major focus is now on transforming the main gallery. Crews are busy covering the walls with about 1,000 works of art that had been stored out of public view, in third floor storage rooms.