As it continues reinstalling existing exhibits to better engage the community, the Spencer Museum of Art is eyeing an even bigger transformation: a building addition.
The museum is one of more than a dozen school and unit priorities named in Far Above: A Campaign for Kansas, Kansas University’s $1.2 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign.
During the next year, the museum hopes to develop a specific monetary goal and a sketch of what the expansion might look like, museum director Saralyn Reece Hardy said. For now, she said, leaders envision a “captivating” architectural feature, one that capitalizes on the museum’s artistic treasures and the beauty of the natural area outside its back door, Marvin Grove.
Reece Hardy’s vision involves light-filled galleries, intimate study spaces, views of the outdoors, welcoming entrances, an all-around “inspiring” atmosphere.
Beyond looks, however, the space is hoped to foster the museum’s mission of being what Reece Hardy describes as an “intersection of art, ideas and experience.”
“It’s well known that every great university has a great art museum,” Reece Hardy said. “We clearly are one of the top university art museums in the country, and to maintain and further that status, we are planning to expand.”
In recent years, the museum has added programs and spaces where students from all departments — not just art history — and other visitors can get up close, and even involved, with art objects and exhibits.
“We really emphasize active engagement, and the creation of opportunities for engagement,” director of external affairs Margaret Perkins-McGuinness said.
The museum established its Andrew W. Mellon Department of Academic Programs in 2009. The program enables coordination of more interdisciplinary exploration of the art, ranging from one-time class visits to ongoing research.
Perkins-McGuinness said the museum could be working with as many as 70 university departments in a given week. Participants might be geology students analyzing the museum’s marble floor, journalism students perusing the Esquire magazine print collection, or accounting students researching tax implications of donations to the museum.
The museum’s recent exhibit “Prepared: Strategies for Activists” is an example of how artists, students and community members can come together to create and interpret art.
International artist in residence Chen Shaoxiong — who is from Beijing — created the grass-roots-style exhibit to explore how activism works in the United States, Perkins-McGuinness said. The exhibition involved works from the Spencer’s permanent collection, works created by students specifically for the project and weekly workshops where artists and activists shared insight into what the museum described as past and current protest phenomena.
For print lovers, the museum now offers Walk-Ins Welcome Fridays. Every Friday the print room, now on the first floor, has a museum staffer on hand to pull prints upon request for anyone who wants to view them.
Renovated in 2008, the intimate Raymond E. White Teaching Gallery enables the museum to pull and display works from its collection that correspond with a particular class’s focus area, so students can observe them in person. Last year, Perkins-McGuinness said, the museum had 37 installations there.
The museum’s ongoing “Project Redefine” is shaking up the way its permanent collections are displayed.
The modern art gallery has more art on display in a smaller space than it used to, and features interactive tidbits such as drawers holding small objects and notebooks holding newspaper articles, written correspondence and other “behind the scenes” information about some of the objects, Perkins-McGuinness said.
Other galleries have moved from art grouped by country or time period to art grouped by theme. One example is the Corpus exhibit, where works are grouped by subjects such as birth and childhood, society and identity, pain and suffering, and body language.
The museum hopes an expansion will enable even more such areas for people to interact with art.
Reece Hardy said the museum continues to seek a lead donor for the project.
“We’re looking for people who can leave a legacy,” she said, “an important and significant legacy.”
— Features reporter Sara Shepherd can be reached at 832-7187. Follow her on Twitter at Twitter.com/KCSSara.