Museum growth, rehab fueling building boom

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As a result of the expansion, the size of the Fine Arts Center will increase by more than 50 percent.

While the last decade of the 20th century likely will be remembered for the Internet boom, the first decade of the 21st just might be remembered for … the art museum boom.

Across the country, scores of museums are being built, renovated or expanded.

In New York, the Museum of Modern Art was completely recreated, at a cost of more than $450 million. In Los Angeles, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has embarked on an ambitious, Renzo Piano-designed expansion that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Museums in Minneapolis and Miami are rebuilding or expanding — but the boom doesn’t stop there. As Maxwell Anderson wrote this year in The Art Newspaper, “… from Qatar to West Kowloon, Singapore, Beijing, and Rome’s contemporary art museum known as MAXXI, designed by Zaha Hadid, new institutions are being designed or built.”

And our own state is one of the leading players in this sudden flowering of the arts.

No less than four major arts facilities are either under construction or undergoing transformative renovation — two in Denver and two in Colorado Springs.

Cutaway view of the FAC expansion

In Colorado Springs, the Fine Arts Center is in the midst of a major renovation/expansion, while just across Cascade Avenue, Colorado College has broken ground for the Cornerstone Arts Center.

After an extensive search, Denver architect and Colorado Springs native David Owen Tryba was chosen to design the FAC’s addition. Projected to cost $28.4 million, it will increase the size of the FAC by more than 50 percent — from 88,388 to 132, 286 gross square feet.

“This project is as historic as the FAC’s beginnings in 1936,” said FAC Board Chairwoman Carol Kleiner, “Those who have committed to the campaign recognize that this project will have a tremendous cultural and economic impact on our region.”

FAC President Michael De Marsche concurs, pointing out that the expanded building will enable the FAC to host major traveling exhibitions. “Ultimately, [we’ll see] expanded audiences,” he said.

According to the FAC’s Web site, “new features will include a permanent collections wing and a traveling exhibition wing, events spaces, an expanded museum shop, theatre restorations, a dedicated rehearsal studio, a new education wing featuring five studios and a center-wide technology upgrade.”

One of the unanticipated benefits of the expansion, according to FAC spokeswoman Madeleine Mellini, has been the creation of FAC Modern, a downtown satellite facility. Originally conceived as a temporary home for the FAC’s exhibitions during the renovation, it has evolved into a permanent presence.

“It offers us lots of opportunities to work with the community, and especially to do more with regional art and artists,” Mellini said.

Of the $28.4 million construction cost, the FAC has raised more than $20 million. Major gifts include $5 million from the El Pomar Foundation, $800,000 from the Gates Foundation and $13.9 million pledged by 193 individual donors.

The Cornerstone Arts Center at Colorado College will occupy half a city block.

Just steps away from the FAC, Colorado College has begun work on its $30 million Cornerstone Arts Center, designed by Albuquerque architect Antoine Predock, the designer of Pueblo’s striking new public library, and winner of the 2006 American Institute of Architects gold medal.

When completed in January 2008, the 73,300-square-foot building will occupy half a city block, extending between Dale Street and Cache La Poudre Avenue on the east side of Cascade Avenue.

Architectural renderings show an airy, angular structure unlike any other on the campus — or in Colorado Springs.

The building is conceived as a creative arts center, incorporating advanced technology to facilitate and generate arts collaboration and interdisciplinary work. It will include a 433-seat auditorium, a “black box” performance venue, an experimental arts space and digital media labs.

The Denver Art Museum is a confluence of sharp angles, sensuous folds and complex geometrics.

In Denver, the new Hamilton wing of the Denver Art Museum is scheduled to open in October. Designed by Daniel Liebeskind, the architect of the proposed “Freedom Tower” at the site of the World Trade Center, the building has already redefined the built environment of Colorado’s capitol.

Descending from Capitol Hill on 13th Street, Liebeskind’s titanium-clad creation looks like … a mountain range? A beached ocean liner? An origami-influenced sculpture?

According to the architect, the building’s genesis couldn’t have been simpler or more obvious.

Speaking to an overflow crowd at Colorado College last year, Liebeskind talked about flying to Denver for the first time to meet with the committee charged with selecting an architect for the project. He was impressed by the interplay between the city and the mountains — the way that the energy of Denver’s downtown was echoed by the mountains rising to the west.

Sitting in a window seat, he made a quick sketch of a building which, like the mountains, would be all sharp angles, sensuous folds and unexpected, complex geometries.

The end result, just three months from completion, is strikingly faithful to that original sketch.

It’s far more than an addition. With a projected budget, including supporting endowment, of $140 million, and a net area of 163,000 square feet, the building will more than double the museum’s size.

Originally conceived by DAM director Lewis Sharp in the early ’90s, the museum’s expansion was financed by a public/private partnership. Of the project’s cost, $62.5 million came from the city of Denver, part of the proceeds of a bond issue approved by voters in 1998. The remainder came from the private sector, including a $60 million endowment funded by the museum’s board. Frederick Hamilton, for whom the wing is named, wrote a check for $20 million. Other major donors include Fred and Jan Mayer ($11 million), Charles and Diane Gallagher ($5 million), The El Pomar Foundation ($3.25 million) and the Kresge Foundation ($1 million).

According the DAM’s Kelly Hurley, the new wing’s primary purpose will not be to accommodate traveling exhibitions — the so-called “blockbusters.”

“We learned from our members and from the public that they want to be able to see more of our permanent collection — our modern and contemporary pieces, as well as historic and specialized collections, so that’s what we’ll be doing,” she said.

Hurley expects a dramatic increase in attendance when the new wing opens.

“Since 1999, our annual attendance has varied between 200,000 and 500,000, depending on our exhibition schedule,” she said. “For the first full year after the opening, we’re projecting 1 million visitors.”

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver was designed by David Adjani.

A couple of miles away in LoDo, the Museum of Contemporary Art’s new building is under construction. The project was conceived a decade and a half ago by director/curator Cydney Peyton and designed by David Adjani. Peyton said she hopes the building will “significantly contribute to the ongoing revitalization of Denver’s historic lower downtown.”

At just 27,000 square feet, MOCA is a more modest undertaking.

But Peyton’s goals are hardly modest. Rather than simply warehousing contemporary art in a permanent collection, she plans to use her gleaming jewel box of a building to showcase the most inventive and challenging contemporary artists.

These four projects will, including project-specific endowments, cost more than a quarter of a billion dollars. That’s more than the annual budget of the National Endowment for the Arts.

So, why the big investment? Jan Brennan, executive director of the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts, thinks she knows.

“No one who works for any economic development office — here, Denver, wherever — isn’t asked every day about the cultural climate of their community,” she said. “Business decision makers want to live in a culturally vibrant community, and so do the kind of innovative, creative problem-solvers that businesses want to hire.

“And the arts are big business, generating $1.3 billion annually just in Denver. Communities are thinking much more richly about the arts. These major cultural institutions are kind of the cutting edge of the wedge. They spin off lots of other things — arts entrepreneurs, teachers, craftspeople.”

Susan Edmondson, executive director of the Bee Vradenburg Foundation, offers another answer.

“A few weeks ago, I was in Milwaukee, sitting outside the new Santiago Calatrava-designed Milwaukee Art Museum,” she said. “In less than an hour, three separate wedding parties pulled up, got out of their limos and had their pictures taken in front of the museum.

“Milwaukee used to be Laverne and Shirley, beer and brats. The museum has re-branded the city. That’s what art museums can do. Art museums are very much the soul of the city … and brilliant architecture makes you want to go see what’s inside.”

Art museums, as cities around the world have learned, bring substantial economic benefits as well.

Bilbao was an obscure Spanish city until the Frank Gehry-designed Bilbao Guggenheim opened. Tourism soared — 1.3 million visitors passed through the doors of Gehry’s spectacular building during its first year.

And as the American Museum Association notes on its Website, “Tourists who visit museums spend nearly twice as much on their travel as those who do not. Households on historic trips spend an average of $722 per trip, excluding transportation to the destination.”

In the “festival downtowns” of the cities of the 21st century, art museums play the role that train stations, hotels, convention centers and airports played in the 20th. They serve as the focus of civic pride, and define the city for residents and visitors alike.

As the late Jennifer Moulton, Denver’s planning director in the 1990s, said of the DAM’s expansion: “Great design adds value to a city. It adds psychic value, aesthetic value, and economic value because it says that you’re a city that is moving, you’re a city that is progressive, you’re a city that has confidence in itself.”