The historic Cape Ann Museum, through a $5 million capital campaign, is about to embark on a 21st-century renovation project to bring its building up to the first-class standard of its collection.
In addition to housing the world’s largest collection of paintings and drawings by native son Fitz Henry Lane (1804-1865), the museum boasts a top-shelf maritime and granite quarrying collection as well as a diverse collection of fine art.
The public is invited to the board’s annual meeting Thursday, after which the plans will be unveiled along with details of the museum’s capital drive. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. with a reception, followed by the business meeting, with the renovation plans to be discussed after that.
The footprint of the 44,000-square-foot museum located in the heart of the downtown will not change, although inside a major interior redesign will take place in addition to a less glamorous updating of HVAC systems. The firm designLAB was chosen to oversee the design and construction of the project; the architect is Robert Miklos.
The museum will close its doors in October to store its collection and prepare for the roughly five-month construction project that will begin in November. Museum officials hope to reopen its doors in the late spring or early summer of 2014.
Cape Ann Museum President John Cunningham will announce the public launch of the $5 million capital campaign with the moniker “Reaching Out and Strengthening Within,” while J.J. Bell, chair of the building committee, and Ronda Faloon, the museum director, will talk about the renovations plans tomorrow in the Folly Cove auditorium.
The campaign is the latest step in the ongoing transformation of a cultural anchor, one that contributes significantly to the region’s cultural vitality, according to the board. The collections embody the art, history and culture of Cape Ann.
Faloon said that, as part of the planning process, the museum surveyed the nearly 1,500 members, and took an introspective look at the museum as well as the board’s vision for the future.
”We want to be one of the best small museums in the country. We know we have an amazing collection but there was a clear need for updating,” she said. “Dynamic new interior and exterior spaces will be created. Outdated systems will be updated, and underutilized spaces will be maximized to provide visitor-friendly settings for the collection.”
The construction plans include the creation of a new central gallery that will serve as the hub of the museum with maps and a timeline to orient visitors to the area and the museum offerings.
The museum weaves together the diverse threads of Cape Ann’s early history, the maritime and fishing industries, the granite industry, and the fine arts from the region’s rich artistic tradition. In recent years, the museum began exhibiting the work of contemporary artists.
”The idea is to clarify the connections among the collections,” said Faloon.
As for the paintings by Lane, one of America’s leading Luminist painters, they will be housed in new surroundings.
”I think you will see the Lane paintings in a way you have never seen before. They are our pride and joy, and they are currently in a 1960s setting,” she said.
Other improvements include the creation of a new welcoming reception area, and enlargement of the windows flanking the garden to connect the expanded new entrance to the museum’s outdoor sculpture garden.
To date, the campaign committee reported that $3.5 million in pledges have been made, including a $250,000 matching grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council Facilities Fund, and a $50,000 challenge grant from Gorton’s of Gloucester to be matched by Cape Ann’s business community
The Cape Ann Museum today is comprised of a complex of buildings, which include galleries, a library/archives, auditorium and education room, two historic houses (1710 and 1804), and two sculpture gardens. But the origin of the museum dates back to 1873 with the incorporation of the Cape Ann Scientific and Literary Association.
The Cape Ann Historical Society later became part of that group. In 2007, the board changed the name to its current Cape Ann Museum.
In 1925, the first building was acquired with the purchase of the 1804 Capt. Elias Davis house.
”The historical society had a collection and a place was needed to house it. So in 1925, it had its first real home,” said Faloon.
In the 1930s, the first expansion began with the creation of the first gallery space, called the Davis Gallery. On the level below the gallery is the auditorium. In the 1960s, another addition was created with the construction of the Fitz Henry Lane gallery, which is the largest gallery. On the floor above is the space where many of the special exhibitions are held.
In the late 1980s, the museum purchased the brick building behind the museum on Elm Street that previously housed the telephone company. That space was renovated to house the maritime gallery, the library/archive space, and children’s activity and educational room. In 1990, an atrium was created.
”A big part of this project is that our systems in the older portions need to be upgraded, and haven’t been changed since the ‘30s and ‘60s, and there are no sprinklers in some portions,” said Faloon. “These are necessary upgrades, and the renovation gives us the opportunity to re-install the collection in new ways. It’s an exciting opportunity to tell the Cape Ann story in an even more compelling way.”
The renovated museum will have what Faloon calls an “educational hub,” which will be the area in the central gallery where visitors can see how these diverse collections are related.
”What makes this museum so special is that everything is interrelated. All these collections are closely connected but it may not be clear at first glance to the visitor how they are connected,” she said. “Cape Ann has this incredibly rich story. The artists came to paint the waterfront and what was happening in the quarries, and much more.”
Faloon also noted that the campaign will support efforts to make the museum’s collection more accessible by digitization, allowing it to be viewed on a redesigned website.
”Whether you are a physical or virtual visitor, we hope to transform the way you experience this museum,” she said.
Cunningham said the board carried out an extensive strategic planning process to get to this point.
“We felt there were two main things we needed to do. The first was to reach out to children, parents, students and visitors and tell our story better, and the second was to bring the level of the facility up to the outstanding level of the collection,” he said.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at email@example.com.
Coming soon In advance of its renovation, Cape Ann Museum has a full schedule of programs scheduled throughout the summer, including two major exhibitions: "Four Winds: The Arts & Letters of Rocky Neck in the 1950s" will be an exhibition showcasing the art and literary scene on Rocky Neck in Gloucester after World War II, featuring work by abstract painter Albert Alcalay (1917-2008) and other modernists, as well as poetry by Charles Olson, Vincent Ferrini and contemporaries. Runs June 15 through Sept. 29. "Hopper Redux: Gail Albert Halaban Photographs," will mark a special exhibition of images by New York based photographer Gail Albert Halaban that offers a fresh look at the Gloucester houses made famous in the paintings of Edward Hopper (1882-1967). Runs June 29 through Sept. 29. For more information, visit www.capeannmuseum.org.