Connecting with the community through a love of cars
By Donna Schuld
GREEN BAY – Since The Automobile Gallery and Event Center opened in Green Bay in 2016, visitors have been able to see rare, collectable cars up-close.
Housed in the historic former Denil Cadillac dealership (1958-1997), the gallery’s mission is to share knowledge and appreciation for the form and function of the automobile – past, present and future.
Executive Director Darrel Burnett said many of the automobiles have come from a private collection or have been donated to The Automobile Gallery.
Burnett said the love of cars can bring people together.
“Last year, we had all 50 states represented and other countries around the world,” he said. “I find those individuals to be fascinating. Maybe The Automobile Gallery wasn’t why they came to this area in the first place, but they found out about the gallery and they’re car fans. That’s the universal language that I love. Someone from England or Poland has that same passion that someone from Green Bay has for the automobile.”
Burnett, now in his third year as executive director, said the gallery is driven by five main principles:
• To provide a cutting-edge facility where the “automobile is the art,” allowing the opportunity to view a wide range of automotive excellence.
• To enhance the knowledge of the general public regarding the engineering, design, development, construction and history of the automobiles on display.
• To promote the restoration, preservation and appreciation of the automobile’s contribution to society.
• To share their passion for automobiles with others by opening their doors to the community.
• To offer an atmosphere for private and public events where the art of the automobiles will create memories that will last a lifetime.
Burnett said like most nonprofit organizations, The Automobile Gallery hit a speed bump in 2020.
He said the gallery recovered nicely in 2021 with more than 10,000 visitors.
Part of 2021’s success, Burnett said, stems from the annual “Cars and Guitars” car show, which returned in June and broke its previous record.
“We had nearly 400 cars last year,” Burnett said. “We brought in new technology and displays. We brought in a children’s area. We’re looking to build on that this year, so we’re really excited. We block off Washington street. We get a top band to come in. We have the food vendors, and of course, we have the cars lining the streets and the parking lot. Then for $5, you could get into the gallery that day… Last year we had the entire spectrum of classic cars, modern cars as well. We’re not exclusionary in that sense.”
The Cars and Guitars 5th Annual Car Show will take place June 18 at The Automobile Gallery and Event Center, 400 S. Adams St.
Helping the community
Launching this spring, Burnett said, is a new program called “Cares for the Community” – an opportunity for car enthusiasts to share their prized vehicle with the public and help a local charity in the process.
“A group of local executives got together with me, and for the first time ever, people from the community are going to be displaying their vehicles here in an ongoing effort with everything benefitting local charities,” he said. “It’s a line of connection between individuals who traditionally wouldn’t show their vehicles or would keep them in a private collection.”
Burnett said the gallery will host displays in a six-to eight-week rotation.
“We’re inviting everyone to be part of this, because we’re going to have small events and large events, unique events that will all raise money,” he said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to make The Automobile Gallery the intersection for assisting our great local charities and at the same time having everyone come together as one under the banner of ‘Cares for the Community.’ It’s one of the most rewarding initiatives that I’ve ever undertaken in my career, and I owe it all to the other individuals who are involved in this project.”
As Burnett looks to the future of the gallery’s place in the community, he said it takes a special team to make the gallery what it is.
“I always say this, ‘The Automobile Gallery wasn’t the culmination of Red Lewis’ dream, it was the beginning of his dream,’” he said. “He wanted this for the community, and he wanted it to grow, and he wanted it to be here for generations. We have a stellar board of directors. We have an incredible staff. We have 110 volunteers that come in and make the gallery what it is. Every single vehicle you see here runs and drives. That takes a lot of work. This is a very robust institution, and we could not do that without those volunteers.”