In August, the Farnsworth Art Museum in Rockland officially celebrated its 60th anniversary, but the museum employees don’t seem to be in the mood to linger on the past. They’re too busy shaping its future.

“It’s not about the past 60 years, it’s about the next 40,” said David Trope, marketing coordinator for the museum.

Under museum Director Lora Urbanelli, the museum has made an effort to become a showcase for modern forms of art and an incubator for artwork yet to come. Urbanelli said American masters such as Homer and Whistler will always have a place at the Farnsworth, but classic paintings recently have shared space with exhibitions on folk art and glass blowing. The goal, Urbanelli said, is to get more people excited about art.

“We want to be able to broaden the view,” she said.

Part of that push toward art accessibility has included a youth movement. Six years ago, the museum and donors established Julia’s Gallery, a space managed and curated by teens to exhibit and sell artwork by Maine teenagers.

And last year, the museum worked with the Island Institute to reach out to young island artists. Through a $20,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, the museum and the institute created a one-year mentorship program that paired young artists with established mentors on Matinicus, Vinalhaven, North Haven, Islesboro, and Isle au Haut. The final works of these collaborations were exhibited at the Farnsworth earlier this year, with many young island artists attending the opening.

“Some people had to fly over,” said Urbanelli.

After the exhibition closed on the mainland, it was packed up by student curators for a traveling show on each of the five islands. Although the show has been exhibited on just three islands to date, its impact is already being felt, said Roger Dell, the Farnsworth’s education director. When the show closed at North Haven’s community center, for example, it inspired others to hold a photo exhibit to take its place.

“It’s become such an integral part of the community,” said Dell.

Although the funding for Building Bridges will not renew, both Dell and Urbanelli hope to find alternative grants to keep the program alive, both on the islands and in other rural areas in Maine, as well.

“We all feel committed to continuing this relationship somehow,” Urbanelli said. “We can’t let it go.”

In addition to the youth programs, the museum also holds classes and events for adult artists. During one of the more popular events, Paint the Town, dozens of artists are set loose in Rockland to create complete paintings in the space of a morning that will then be sold that very evening. This past year, the event has coupled artists with poets who write spontaneous poems about the mad dash to create art.

The changed mission at the Farnsworth reflects the new mission of all art museums to foster a new breed of artists, said Urbanelli. It’s not just a matter of altruism on the museums’ part, she said, but a matter of survival. The number of art lovers and museum-goers could drop dramatically as the next generation of teens sidesteps traditional art for the higher stimulation of television, the internet, and video games.

At the same time, schools are being forced to cut liberal art programs because of budget constraints and the time needed to teach to standardized tests.

“We’re fearful we’re going to lose our audience in another generation,” Urbanelli said.

If such an attrition of art appreciation continues in the decades to come, then Rockland would lose one of its pillars, said John Bird, a Farnsworth board member and chair of the Island Institute’s Board of Trustees.

The Island Institute and the Farnsworth have collaborated on several projects over the years, in addition to Building Bridges, and Bird expects there will be more to come.

“It is an anchor in the community creatively and economically,” Bird said, about the Farnsworth.

Peter Ralston, photographer and executive vice president of the Island Institute, recalls much collaboration. The institute worked with the museum curating the show “An Eye for Maine,” showcasing works owned by the late Betty Noyce, he said. The Island Institute also worked closely with the Farnsworth on the show “On Island: A Century of Continuity and Change,” the inaugural exhibit in the museum’s Jamien Morehouse Wing, named in honor of the late Morehouse, a writer, environmentalist, educator and wife of Philip Conkling, the institute’s president. Ralston said the Island Journal’s 2005 profile of Bo Bartlett set the stage for the museum’s 2007 exhibit of that artist’s work, “Still Point,” which was accompanied by a complimentary show at Archipelago.

On a more informal level, Ralston said that it was during a meeting with Christopher Crossman, former museum director, and Charles Cawley, former CEO of MBNA, that the subject of the sale of the Fisher Engineering property on the Rockland waterfront first came up. MBNA eventually built a call center, boardwalk and docking facility there. Ralston, who served on the Farnsworth board for nine years, said, “Chris Crossman and I talked a lot about how a rising tide floats all boats. That informed how we approached our collaboration. It was a spirit of what we can do as good neighbors in this community, and beyond, and that spirit of partnership continues.”

Bird can remember when the Farnsworth first opened in Rockland, after business heir Lucy Farnsworth left the city her estate and $1.38 million in 1938 to establish an art museum and library in her father’s name. With a Carnegie library just down the street, her estate’s executioners wisely chose to focus solely on the museum.

But there was little artwork to speak of in the Farnsworth family and the artwork that was there lacked a uniform style. The museum’s founders sought out an art buyer and gave him free latitude.

“They gave him a checkbook and told him to go collect a collection,” Urbanelli said.

Bird said that Rockland residents first thought the museum out of place in the town’s blue-collar atmosphere, but the museum soon grew to become a cornerstone in the city’s cultural economy.

Over the years, it has helped to document Maine’s surprisingly large impact on American art history, where the coastline particularly has drawn artists for hundreds of years. The Maine coast shows up in unexpected paintings, serving as the backdrop of Civil War naval battles that actually occurred much further south and setting the mood for abstract paintings from urban artists.

“When you look at some of the great American paintings of our history, a lot of it was done here,” Trope said.

David Tyler also contributed to this article.