In preparation for a potential renovation and expansion project, Albright-Knox Art Gallery announced dates for four public meetings in November and December in venues throughout Erie County.
The first public meeting will be held Nov. 5 in Kleinhans Music Hall, 3 Symphony Circle, followed by meetings in the Buffalo Academy for Visual and Performing Arts, 450 Masten Ave., on Nov. 14; the Park School’s Rich Family Activity Center, 4625 Harlem Rd., Amherst, on Nov. 18; and West Middle School, 395 Center Road, West Seneca, on Dec. 1. All of the sessions will run from 6 to 8 p.m.
The purpose of the meetings, Albright-Knox Director Janne Sirén said in a statement, is “to have meaningful conversations with our constituents about the future of our museum to get their thoughts and insights on what the Albright-Knox of tomorrow should be. Essentially, we are asking the question, ‘What does the public want from its museum?’ ”
The gallery’s outreach to members and the public officially began at noon on Monday, when about 30 members met in Albright-Knox’s Clifton Hall to hear Sirén’s presentation about what gallery officials believe is a pressing need for major repairs and more space. About 120 gallery members were signed up to participate in meetings on Monday and Tuesday, which will be followed by smaller focus groups.
In his 35-minute talk, Sirén laid out the history of the gallery, from its inception in 1862 through the construction of its 1905 building and 1962 addition and the problems it now faces with the visitor experience and with loading and exhibiting contemporary art.
“We are a bicycle with one pedal right now because our spaces do not permit us to do anything else,” Sirén said. “We need to be able to work with two pistons, so people can come here whenever they want, whatever time of the year, and we will always have treasure and interesting things to show. The problem is not that we don’t have them to show, it’s that we don’t have the space to function the way a museum of modern and contemporary art should in our day and age.”
Sirén took time during his presentation to downplay the architectural significance of Clifton Hall, which, like the gallery’s original 1905 building, was designed by E.B. Green. It once housed the Albright Art School and was long under the stewardship of SUNY Buffalo State before becoming part of the gallery in 1988.
“It’s a little bit misleading to call it an E.B. Green building because, of the original E.B. Green design, only this inner square remains,” Sirén said, referring to the light-filled central space of the building in which the meeting was held. “The wings are from the ’40s and ’50s, and the façade has been added to so many times that you don’t really see E.B. Green’s architecture here anymore. So this is not E.B. Green.”
For the first time in public, Sirén also outlined the major suggestions of a recent master plan for growth that the gallery commissioned from the architecture firm Snohetta. The report, which has not been released, gave the gallery three scenarios: to “fix what we have now, build a little more, or build a lot more.”
Which tactic the gallery chooses, officials have suggested, will depend at least in part on the outcome of the feedback sessions with members and the public. Following Sirén’s presentation, the members divided into several groups to share with gallery curators ideas about what a build-out might look like.
Attendees wrote on Post-it notes ideas and suggestions for the gallery’s future, which ranged from exclamatory demands for “better food” or to “move the parking lot” to suggestions about creating a “cultural campus” and expanding the gallery’s education facilities.
Each member also received a sheet of red stickers, which they were encouraged to place next to pre-written statements on a series of whiteboards, each of which posed a question about the gallery’s future.
One of the most telling results of the sticker exercise appeared on the board featuring a question about where the gallery’s new space should be located if it were to expand. There were 27 dots next to the answer “at its current site on Elmwood Avenue,” while 19 appeared next to the answer “Located at some other site.”
Not a single dot appeared next to the statement, “I don’t think the AK should add more space.”