Reader View: New Mexico Museum of Art ready to expand

Posted on in category Editorial

Dan Perry and Ashlyn Perry

Dan and Ashlyn Perry

Dan and Ashlyn Perry

We are co-chairing The Centennial Campaign for the New Mexico Museum of Art. This fundraising effort will generate $10 million in private contributions to expand the Museum of Art into a second location while encouraging the state to continue investing in the restoration of the museum’s historic 1917 building on the downtown Plaza.

We appreciate the editorial (“Art museum spreads its wings,” Our View, March 21) in The Santa Fe New Mexican, which clearly addressed the need for this expansion and the many benefits it will bring to Santa Fe. As noted, the museum is simply too small, at 55,000 square feet, to fulfill the mandate of a 21st-century museum of art. The current facility has no dedicated classroom space, no more room for collection storage and is not suited for the exhibition of large-scale contemporary works.

The need for expansion has been discussed locally since the early 1990s. Several attempts have been made to add an extension to the current building, but all have failed. Two years ago, in anticipation of the Museum’s Centennial in 2017, Director Mary Kershaw and her staff initiated a strategic plan to envision the institution’s future. A very deliberative process followed, facilitated by Lord Cultural Resources, the world’s foremost museum planning firm, with later engagement by the nationally renowned fundraising counsel, Marts & Lundy. The museum also conducted a series of public roundtable discussions on its future during the summer of 2015 that involved nearly 100 community members.

This two-year process culminated in November 2015 with an overwhelming vote of approval by the Museum of New Mexico Foundation trustees to move forward on the Centennial Campaign to expand the Museum of Art into the Halpin Building in Santa Fe’s Railyard District. Other options were considered, but none provided the cost savings or unique location offered by the Halpin. The state already has invested $700,000 in the Halpin and transferred it into the Museum of New Mexico system. Private contributions now will complete the project with $8.7 million in capital funding to renovate the building and transform it into a contemporary art venue for the Museum.

In addition to a facilities review conducted by Lord Cultural Resources, we have consulted a former foundation trustee, Bill Neuhaus, who is familiar with previous efforts to expand the museum. He is an architect skilled in urban design with forty years’ experience in renovation, restoration and the adaptive reuse of historic buildings.

After studying the Halpin, he perceives it to be structurally sound with the necessary volume, aesthetics and support space to compliment a program of contemporary art exhibitions, collection storage and education. He opines that the adaptive reuse, following national and local historic guidelines, will be affordable and sustainable, serving as an inspirational arts institution and economic generator for Santa Fe and The Railyard.

We all recognize the state’s responsibility to maintain the museum’s current 1917 building. The Department of Cultural Affairs has expended $1.5 million since 2012 to repair and restore this iconic building and has established a capital improvement plan totaling $6 million for future work. We understand this capital outlay will take time given the financial challenges facing New Mexico, but the 1917 building’s restoration will be phased over time.

Moreover, the Department of Cultural Affairs has committed to increasing the museum’s operational budget by $1 million by 2020, when the Halpin Building is expected to open. We believe there is adequate time to secure this additional funding through incremental increases over the next four years.

As we celebrate 100 years of artistic achievement for the New Mexico Museum of Art, we know the time is now to build for the Museum’s future — a future that promises us greater art, cultural vitality and economic development, as well as more tourism and educational opportunities for our youth. That’s a promise that Santa Fe and New Mexico can believe in.

Dan Perry is a Museum of New Mexico Foundation Trustee and Ashlyn Perry is a City of Santa Fe Arts Commissioner.

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