By Allie Chason and Michael Hall
The Asheville Art Museum closed its doors to visitors in November to begin construction in order to better accommodate and attract Western North Carolina and its visitors.
“The new museum project has three main components to it in terms of the architecture and the building itself,” said Rebecca Lynch-Maas, project manager of the Asheville Art Museum.
The Asheville Art Museum plans to further its work within the Asheville community and its relationship with its neighbors during its construction and closure in order to create a stronger hold downtown.
“The first component is historic preservation and renovation of the 1926 Pack Memorial Library. So a large portion of that work was already accomplished earlier this year,” said Rebecca Lynch-Maas.
Lynch-Maas talked about the importance of keeping the historic look of the building during the expansion of the museum by incorporating adaptive reuse tactics on parts of the existing exterior structure.
“The historic preservation of the exterior and the windows, so that was cleaning the exterior marble of nearly 100 years of coal dust, car exhaust, dirt, and human grime. Which was great once they took the scaffolding down and you saw it revealed. It really glowed,” said Lynch-Maas.
The windows on the structure facing Pack Square have already undergone restoration and have been restored to match their original appearance.
“What was very fun was that the window restoration crew, as they were cleaning the windows and scraping all the layers of paint off, discovered that the original sill color was a light cream, so it had been painted for any number of years as you can sort of see in here it is a dark forest green which made them even darker,” said Lynch-Maas.
“So when they repainted the sills this light cream you will see outside it sort of made the whole outside bright and glow,” said Lynch-Maas.
The museum planned a more inviting structure that would attract residents and tourists into the new building.
“We worked with Ennead architects out of New York, they were the design architects, so they did concept design and schematic design with us. They are known for their work with educational and cultural institutions and a lot of museums,” said Lynch-Maas.
Ennead architects have worked with other large museums like the American Museum of Natural History, Museum of the City of New York, and the National Museum of American Jewish History.
“They have a real passion for community centered organizations and for making the buildings reflect a transparent engaged relationship with communities. They use a lot of glass in order to have the communities invited within the space and it be a permeable layer between, and this big closed off museum on the hill that looks intimidating,” said Lynch-Maas.
The executive director of the Asheville Art Museum Pamela L. Myers believes this is an important time to focus on community engagement.
“What’s happening now is our staff is moving to our pop up headquarters at 175 Biltmore Avenue. I think we have a chance during this time to meet and get to know other parts of our community that we may be less familiar with by popping up in their spaces,” said Myers, “So it’s a chance for us to learn what people want the new museum to be and how we can best fulfill their needs”.
Myers has been with the museum for over twenty years and believes that the expansion is necessary to embrace a growing community.
“Most people feel strongly that you need a strong art museum to anchor a vibrant downtown. Certainly the development during the 1980’s of Pack Place brought life back to downtown Asheville,” said Myers.
“So going forward I think people are committed to the notion that a twenty first century great piece of architecture that houses the art culture of this community ought to be downtown and ought to be in the center of a vibrant community, and in fact anchoring it,” said Myers.
The museum has been planning its expansion since 2002 and plans to finish its construction by the summer of 2018, according to Myers.
“I think everyone in the community is very excited about the project. It’s been a long time coming and we can see it on the horizon now and I’m very excited about it,” said Myers.
Project manager of the Asheville Art Museum, Rebecca Lynch-Maas, has been working with the architects to create a space that has a focus on community engagement, specifically for schools and their students.
“It is really exciting, so the museum serves all 24 counties of Western North Carolina, and you can get out of Asheville very quickly, and it gets very rural and very underserved very quickly,” said Lynch Mass, “A few years ago a group of seventh graders, so twelve or thirteen year olds from Jackson county, which is like and hour or hour and half away, who have never been to Asheville, never been in a building with an elevator, so the idea of coming to downtown Asheville, they were talking about the skyline and the BBT building and traffic and cross walks.”
“It becomes so much more then just visiting the museum as an experience but a world experience and how you navigate an urban center that is so far different from where you are, and we appreciate that,” Lynch-Maas.