The executive director of the Columbus Museum of Art discusses the museum's expansion, champions of local art and more.
Columbus' appreciation for art has grown along with Nannette Maciejunes' pursuit of a passion curated from childhood.
Nannette Maciejunes likes to use the words "journey" and "transformation" when she discusses the $93 million endowment and capital campaign that has expanded and improved the Columbus Museum of Art.
The campaign, which began to take shape just after Maciejunes was named the museum's executive director in 2003, will culminate with opening celebration events Oct. 22-25.
The expansion includes a new 50,000-square-foot wing with exhibition and collection spaces, renovations of the historic 1931 building and 1974 wing, a new main entrance, revamped restaurant and relocation of the sculpture garden.
It's been a labor of love for Maciejunes, who started working at the museum in 1984 as a curatorial research assistant.
She recently talked with Columbus CEO about what the expansion means for the museum's future. Here are excerpts from that conversation.
How did you develop such a passion for art?
My parents were teachers, and my mother particularly loved art… My parents took me to a lot of museums. Every summer, we would go to this place or that place. I grew up with that being part of my life.
One of the watershed moments for me came when I was 16 and my parents took me to a show at the Metropolitan Museum (of Art) in New York. The Met had a clever idea when it asked its departments to bring one of their masterpieces-one of their top five or 10-to one floor of the Met. You could walk through the whole history of art. It was hugely impactful for me. I thought, 'Wow! This is extraordinary.'
What are the biggest opportunities and challenges with the expansion and renovation of the museum?
I'll start with the challenges. What's amazing is that we had not made a major infrastructure investment at the museum since the 1970s… with the 1974 wing and the sculpture garden that came in the late '70s or early '80s. That is an awfully long time to go without a major infrastructure (project). We really needed to do this.
The great opportunity was it happened in a window when we were going through a very conscious, intentional rethinking of art museums in the 21st century… To have that infrastructure investment at the same time gave us the opportunity to create mission-driven architecture-architecture that matched the journey we were on and where we wanted to go.
Have you reached the $93 million campaign goal?
We have. We've met our goals. It's been remarkable. That's a lot of money for us.
How did you do it?
With a lot of good friends. I'm grateful that the museum has had through its history great members, donors and volunteers, a good board, a very creative staff, and a community that cares about us. All of those things made it possible. People believed in us and were excited about the changes we're seeing at the museum.
I'm also really proud the museum was open throughout this entire process except for a tiny close from (this) Labor Day until Oct. 22. We've not just been open but (we've been) on this transformational journey about how we serve our community.
One of the things I'm most proud of is that we were awarded the National Medal in 2013. It's extraordinary because art museums don't get it very often. The award is about transformational work in the community, our social mission, and how we contribute to Columbus. We have a great reputation nationally for being in front of the pack on how we transform a museum into a visitor-centered experiential art center while still serving our traditional curatorial mission and caring for collections.
How have you seen the appreciation for the arts and museum's role evolve?
The change we've really seen is not just a recognition that art and culture is important-we've all known that for a long time-but (art) being embraced as part of the city's identity and that it is integral to having a thriving, vibrant community… I've seen that this community realizes the cultural sector is one of the keys to our success. I think it's always been there, but I've seen it grow and become more embraced.
Who are some champions of the arts that the museum would be in a bad place without?
We would be in an incredibly bad place if we didn't have Bob and Peggy Walter, who love the museum deeply. They gave the lead gift, a foundational gift of $10 million, which was the largest single monetary gift at one point that we had ever received.
(The Walters' support) speaks to the importance of relationships for institutions. Their relationship stretches back to when they were young parents and Bob was a young businessman. That long-term relationship and trust led to a gift of that scale.
The city and county have also been immensely supportive with this project, and so has the state of Ohio. There's been support at every level-individuals, corporations and all the way through our public officials. It takes all of us to do this.
Given all the improvements, is the museum's place in the community where it needs to be now?
What's important about this renovation and expansion is it creates an infrastructure and foundation to let us continue this remarkable journey into launching us deeper into the 21st century and our relationship with our community and the art world. It's about how we fit all that together. It's put us on that trajectory and gives us opportunities that would not have happened in this building. We will be able to raise more money. We will be able to do things we never imagined.
What are you most proud of about the work of the museum?
I think our risk-taking and willingness to get out there in front of the pack and help redefine what art museums should look like and should do. And I love this building. It's a beautiful space and really key to what happens inside that will bring people back (to the museum)… What we need is for people to get interested and fascinated and come back to visit us again.
I am really proud of this transformation and our social mission of supporting the creativity of every one of us. That's the most important thing for me and how it's come together in this building.
What will be the major challenges for the museum in the next 10 years?
I think two things. One is the whole cultural sector in Columbus is working hard on financial sustainability… We want to be able to compete with the cities that the (Columbus) Partnership and other business leadership have identified as our competition.
The second thing is constant change and the challenge of being responsive to the community and to listen and respond to its needs. How do we do that in a strategic way that carries the museum forward … and what does it look like? That's one of the museum's greatest challenges-how we become integral to and of value to people's lives in new ways.
The museum business will be changing. If you're not willing to embrace that change, you are not going to thrive… I'm an art person and love art, and we have some of the greatest examples of human creativity on our walls. But it isn't enough to hang that picture and take good care of it. Our community needs so much more than that. The world demands more.
Jeff Bell is a freelance writer.