An expanded Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will ‘bring the world’ to Richmond

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Print this page by Paula C. Squires

With its reopening only eight days away on May 1,  an expanded Virginia Museum of Fine Arts threw open its doors today, giving the media a sneak preview of a $150 million addition that’s expected to boost tourism and jobs at the country’s largest state art museum.

Calling the project “nothing short of spectacular,” museum Director Alex Nyerges stood in a new sun-filled atrium and predicted a ‘huge” economic impact for the region and the state as a result of the long-awaited project. The five-level glass and stone addition, which broke ground in November 2005, adds 165,000 square feet of new space, bumping the museum’s total to more than 500,000 square feet.  Plus, it doubles the space for traveling exhibitions, such as an upcoming Tiffany exhibit in late May, where Richmond will be the only U.S. venue to feature the show.

The James W. and Frances G. McGlothlin Wing and the couple’s collection of American art are a key feature in the museum’s redevelopment of its 13-acre site. Other new elements include a sculpture garden, an outdoor plaza, and a 600-car parking deck. As people milled about today, they took in some of the art that the public will soon see. One hard-to-miss piece in the atrium is Splotch #22, a dramatic, eight-feet high, fiberglass sculpture by Sol LeWitt that resembles mountain peaks, only in primary colors. 

Nyerges expects a surge in tourism when the museum reopens, following a 10-month closure of all art galleries so final construction could proceed. “We’ve already done an impact study that shows that just by being open, there will be a $35-to-$40 million impact.” Major special exhibits are expected to generate another $20 million to $30 million, he said in an interview with Virginia Business. Starting May 1, the museum will be open seven days a week.

The expansion has prompted the museum to add jobs in visitor services, security, marketing and conservation. Altogether, the museum employs 300 people. Looking to the future, Nyerges says the expansion would allow for growth of the museum’s conservation center. Currently, the museum can handle about 50 percent of the museum’s conservation work, he notes, with the rest contracted out.  Nyerges envisions a partnership with Virginia Commonwealth University in the creation of a master’s degree program in conservation science. “This way we could train people, keep them here and there would be more jobs for Virginia.” 

The expansion is the result of a public/private partnership. The state of Virginia kicked in $50 million for the addition, and private donors funded the rest. London-based Rick Mather Architects designed the addition in partnership with a Richmond architectural firm, SMBW.

The McGlothlin Wing and the museum’s transformation moves it into the top 10 tier of comprehensive art museums in the country, garnering exposure in national publications. Pam Reynolds, president of the museum’s board of trustees and a long-time supporter, says the expansion will help the museum reach other goals.The board wants to increase the museum’s endowment, grow its annual membership to 50,000 members by 2015 and enlist more corporate support.  Several of the state’s large public companies, such as Altria Group Inc. and Dominion Resources, are already involved, serving as sponsors for the museum’s grand opening events.



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