Here’s a little perspective: This year’s high school graduates haven’t been able to set foot inside the Asheville Art Museum since early in their freshman year. That’s how long the current, $24 million renovation and expansion is taking.
But this past Friday, museum director Pam Myers and some of her staff walked BPR and other local media through three floors and a rooftop of new galleries and other features that, up to now, have never been part of the museum’s 71-year history.
Myers started from the plaza, still fenced off for construction.
“We set out to create a building that was very contemporary composed of really solid and beautiful materials that would frame the marble of the historic library building,” she said. “Yet we wanted the building to be extremely transparent and be a continuation of the park and this public living room of Asheville.”
The only question left open is when the museum will open. Unofficial word is sometime in July, though museum officials are comfortable to set it broadly as “later this summer.”
Simply by aesthetics and location -- where Broadway becomes Biltmore Avenue, across from the Vance Memorial -- the museum will be the undisputed cultural anchor of downtown Asheville.
Cement-to-ceiling windows give way past the entrance to terrazzo and polished cement floors, cream-colored columns that gently flare like champagne flutes and a ceiling pocked with perforations.
While exterior of the 1926 Pack Library is still intact, none of the historic features are visible from the inside, where the museum will now house an education center and art research library.
Open stairways lead to the new galleries. You’ll see ash wood flooring, ribbed blond wood ceilings and blocks of zinc paneling as a visual connection to the facade of the building.
When the museum reopens, the second-floor galleries will showcase 50 artists from Western North Carolina and neighboring regions in a contemporary exhibition called “Appalachia Now.” the work spans a range of visual mediums and performance.
Third-floor galleries will feature work from the museum’s growing permanent collection, now at around 5,000 works.
The museum will have a room programmed with hands-on activities for kids and seniors. A new rooftop terrace featuring sculpture and a panoramic mountain view leads to a new cafe.
“From the beginning, the plaza and the roof were important parts of our thinking about programming,” Myers said. “We’d been thinking the rooftop terrace would look north toward the city, but when we saw this (skyline), we thought, ‘Well, that’s a no-brainer.’”
NOTE: The audio version of this story incorrectly sets the renovation's total cost. It's correctly noted in the text of this story at $24 million.