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October 13, 2011

Shelburne Museum to Build Shiny New Art and Education Center

Center_for_Art_and_Education_at_Shelburne_Museum WEBWhen Electra Havemeyer Webb founded the Shelburne Museum in 1947, she imagined the museum would one day be open year round, according to its board chairman, James Pizzagalli. More than 50 years after her death, her dream is coming true.  

The Shelburne Museum, which has always operated only between mid-May and the end of October, announced today its plans to construct a 16,000-square-foot, LEED-certified art and education center. The contemporary-style structure, which will hold galleries, an auditorium and classroom space, will serve as the museum's flagship building.

The big news? It will allow the museum to operate year round.

Gallery_Center_for_Art_and Education_at Shelburne_Museum"This allows us to fundamentally change the way the Shelburne Museum serves the community," said Thomas Denenberg, who starts November 1 as the museum's new director, at a press conference this morning. The museum's summer schedule has always made it difficult to connect with area school children, who can participate in educational programs only during small windows of time in the spring and fall. 

"Meeting the full potential of our educational mission has been inhibited by our seasonal schedule," says Pizzagalli. It's also been inhibited by the campus' facilities. In short: they're not modern enough for today's tech-savvy kids. 

The $14 million fundraising campaign — the museum has already raised $10.75 million — also includes an endowment to sustain the museum's ongoing operation, as well as the installation of a major fiber-optic communications upgrade.

So what does the new building mean for the extensive art collection? For years, way too many of the museum's more than 500 American paintings have been tucked away in storage, says Pizzagalli, simply because there has only been one space, the Webb Gallery, in which to display them. An additional 5000 square feet of gallery space in the new building will be able to hold visiting shows. "The Webb Gallery will go back to its original role," says Pizzagalli — namely, exhibiting American paintings from the permanent collection.

Site_Center_for_Art_and_Education_at_Shelburne_MuseumThe new center, designed by Boston-based Ann Beha Architects, will be built on the site of the existing Kalkin House, the prefab steel-frame and maritime-shipping-container structure. Which is a little sad, because that building is awesome. But Pizzagalli says it was always intended as a temporary structure.

Construction is scheduled to begin next year, and the center should open in 2013. 

"I can summarize the feeling of the board in simple terms," says Pizzagalli. "We are very excited."

Some thanks to the wealthy Vermonters who generously donate their cabbage to fund these things that poor schmoes like me can go and enjoy. I appreciate your generosity.

Let's see - the Shelburne Museum is dedicated to preserving and displaying historic Vermontia and Americana, right? It wants to be open year-round, and so will build this building. I know, I know, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and all that, but couldn't they build something representative of the times they are supposedly preserving and displaying? Why this ugly thing that looks more like a bank? (Fast forward fifty [hell, ten] years: this will be looked at an out-of place-eyesore. Bummer.)

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