Countdown begins to opening of new Tacoma Art Museum

Tacoma Art Museum officials are excited about the opening of their new building a little over a week from now.

“This is a grand time for us,” said Courtenay Chamberlin, director of communications for the Tacoma Art Museum, during Wednesday’s media preview of the nearly completed new building. “Today you will see the final product of years of hard work.”

All of that hard work has paid off in the form of Tacoma’s newest cultural jewel, a sleek glass and steel building that nearly doubles the size of the museum’s soon-to-be former home at 1123 Pacific Ave.

The new $22 million building – located at 1701 Pacific Ave. – is designed to evoke a connection to place, in this case the Pacific Northwest. The building’s exterior materials include shadow stainless steel and smoky glass that help the building dissolve into the Puget Sound sky.

“Outside, the building is quiet,” said Janeanne Upp, the museum’s executive director. “Inside, you get that sense of place.”

That sense of place includes:

– 12,000-square feet of flexible gallery space with appropriate lighting and climate control. The building houses five galleries, including the main Annette B. Weyerhaeuser Gallery, which will showcase national shows and the best of Northwest art; the Bill and Bobby Street Gallery, a venue for established and emerging artists from the Northwest; and the Weyerhaeuser Family, The Boeing Company and Jane & George Russell galleries, which will offer areas for rotating exhibits throughout the year.

– a wave-shaped open-air interior stone garden made from 500-year-old hand-chiseled stone pavers from a road in China. The effect is such that it looks as though an earthquake has struck, causing the ground to buckle.

– a fully equipped Fuchs Foundation Wing with art-making space, including a separate studio open to visitors, with sinks, counters and other educational-related facilities.

– the Bill and Melinda Gates Resource Center with state-of-the-art equipment and materials, including reference materials, periodicals and teacher resources.

– an expanded event space with audio-visual equipment for lectures, films and performances.

– “Untitled,” the museum’s cafe with ample seating and food service facilities.

– an expanded museum store with gifts, books and art-related items.

– art preservation areas and collections storage, as well as a freight elevator and loading dock for moving works of art.

– a parking area with 125 spaces.

Other amenities include a spiral ramp inspired by Mount Rainier that encircles the open-air stone garden and connects the galleries, as well as windows, mirrors and other creative methods designed to have light flow throughout the airy building.

“As you move through the building, I hope you’ll feel a connection of space,” said Upp, explaining the museum’s mission is to connect people with art. “There’s a uniquely Northwest feel as you move throughout the building.”

Located next to Union Station and the Washington State History Museum and across from the University of Washington Tacoma campus, the upper floor of the new Tacoma Art Museum provides spectacular views of Tacoma’s bustling industrial landscape.

The new museum is near the Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art – which opened in July – and the Greater Tacoma Convention and Trade Center, which is currently under construction.

Antoine Predock of Albuquerque, New Mexico is the building’s architect, in conjunction with executive architects Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen of Seattle.

The Tacoma Art Museum’s new building is the first space specifically designed for the museum. Since its inception in 1935, the Tacoma Art Museum has had many homes, including a university building tower, a jail, a storefront and a former bank (the current location). The new building is the culmination of work that began in the early 1990s with the Tacoma Art Museum’s Board of Directors, which thought the region’s residents deserved a world-class museum.

A volunteer committee got broad support – including a “who’s who” in the region, as well as various companies and members of the public – for a capital campaign fund that raised the money necessary to make the new museum a reality.

“It’s truly been a collective vision that’s driven us here today,” Upp said.
Still, it will be a bittersweet move, Upp noted, as the museum has been at its current home for over three decades. “It will be a poignant moment when we close the old Tacoma Art Museum doors after 32 years,” she said.

The Tacoma Art Museum will celebrate its new building on Saturday, May 3, with a 24-hour grand opening celebration, complete with bed races, yoga, bands, art making, curatorial and architectural tours and more. (Tacoma Art Museum officials were handing out toothbrushes during Wednesday’s media preview in anticipation of the upcoming all night celebration.)

A members-only celebration is scheduled for 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., with the general public welcome beginning at 8 p.m. For more information, visit the museum’s Website at:

Officials hope to continue downtown Tacoma’s renaissance by attracting even more people to the city. A projected 90,000 people are expected to visit the new building during the museum’s next fiscal year, which runs from July 2003 to June 2004, according to Chamberlin.

“This is a historic moment for our organization,” said Patricia McDonnel, chief curator of the museum.