The Albright-Knox Art Gallery needs more space – a lot of it – but an expansion at its current campus on Elmwood Avenue must preserve the integrity of the Frederick Law Olmsted parkland surrounding it.
That’s the consensus opinion collected from a series of public meetings and focus groups held by the museum as it charts its future, museum officials said Monday evening during a public presentation.
“There was overwhelming support for expansion on our current campus,” said Janne Sirén, director of the Albright-Knox.
Sirén, in a roughly hour-long presentation to a couple hundred people in the gallery’s auditorium, said the suggestion of expanding the gallery received 100 percent support from the public queried during initial meetings held over the last several months.
Of those, 82 percent support expansion at the current campus on Elmwood Avenue, with the remainder looking to expand the gallery somewhere off site, research showed.
Those who’d like to see expansion on its current footprint, however, are advising directors to:
• Reopen the public entrance through the grand doors of its 1905 building on the Hoyt Lake side of the museum.
• Avoid using any surrounding park land in its plans to expand.
• Open shared pathways between the Hoyt Lake and Elmwood Avenue sides of the gallery.
“The Albright-Knox is such an important focal point of people’s history and hopes for the future. ... Whatever Albright-Knox does, we must do it collaboratively with you,” Sirén said. “The community has a deep stake in what happens to this museum and in these buildings.”
Gallery directors remain in the exploratory stages of gauging the public’s views about an expanded Albright-Knox – “the beginning of the beginning in terms of public outreach,” according to Sirén – but, the director did let a few ideas run wild.
One involved doubling available parking space on the campus by burying it in an underground parking garage at a projected cost at $7.5 million.
Another was doubling its exhibit space to about 40,000 square feet. That would allow the gallery to meet public demand to display more of its collection, he said.
The public outreach efforts found that 92 percent of those surveyed deemed that “very important” with the remaining 8 percent regarding it “important.” No one said it was “not important,” Sirén said.
Of the recent community meetings held by gallery directors, the museum’s biggest physical challenge as cited by 46 percent of those surveyed was that there is “not enough exhibition space.” In all, 51 percent told directors their favorite art works were no longer on view at the Albright-Knox.
“People are talking about the art and there’s not enough space for the art,” Sirén said.
Following the presentation, several members of the audience posed questions that ranged from the potential impact on neighbors, how the expansion would be funded and suggestions for public outreach, including through educational programs involving the Buffalo Public Schools and others.
“People were very clear with us,” said Maria Scully-Morreale, the gallery’s director of communications. “You cannot stay locked up on Elmwood Avenue. ... You must be out there.”
“We heard that and we’re going to be working on that.”
As for funding any expansion, Sirén said it would likely involve a wide range of sources, but was still “premature” to talk about funding until it was determined how extensive the expansion would be after plans are drawn up.
That could still be a year or so away.
Said Sirén: “That lies ahead in the future.”