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  February 5, 2001

Benton Museum Makeover Will Increase
Access to Arts on Campus

A new addition planned for The William Benton Museum of Art will expand its exhibit space and is expected to boost its presence on campus.

The $1.5 million project, now in the design phase, will include a 5,000-square-foot addition and renovations to the museum's existing space. The project is being designed by Gregg & Wies architects of New Haven, who recently completed renovations for Yale's Center for British Art. The groundbreaking is expected to take place in early September.

"My staff and I are very excited about the addition," says Salvatore Scalora, director of the Benton Museum. "It will make the museum more inviting and accessible to everyone and give us so much more flexibility. It will help create a more open and active museum with greater ties to the University and the community."

David Woods, dean of the School of Fine Arts, agrees. "I think the new addition is going to expand the opportunities for student involvement in the arts and will provide a central location for arts interaction with students and faculty."

The two-story addition, which will be built on what is now the museum's back lawn, will include a 2,000-square-foot gallery, a gift shop, a small snack bar and an area for café tables. The façade will combine tinted glass and brick to match the existing building. It will have an arched copper roof and a patio. The addition will have a contemporary feel, but will be a nice blend of the old and the new, Scalora says.

The entrance, facing the Student Union quadrangle, will give it more public presence, he says "It will be architecturally beautiful and also functional. The design concept is to have the museum be a kind of social place that draws people - an active museum with a lot of visibility. The street-level entrance and glass exterior will be inviting, because people will be able to see what we're doing."

The new gallery will allow more of the museum's extensive permanent collection to be shown, Scalora says. "We have more than 4,000 works, including paintings, drawings, prints, photographs and sculpture, housed in the museum's basement storage facilities. In our present situation, we haven't had the room to highlight these works. This new gallery space will give us more flexibility to set up long-term exhibits from our collection, as well as create new temporary exhibits." The new second-floor gallery will lead into the existing rear gallery and main gallery of the historic Benton Museum building.

The space that is now the gift shop and entrance to the museum will become a seminar room, lined with bookshelves, Scalora says. "It will have a feeling of privateness and the ambience of a library/study room. Professors may want to hold seminars here and patrons will be able to take a little rest here, sit at a table and view art books. It will be a nice, quiet, meditative place."

The garden, in what is now the front of the museum, will remain the same special place where students, faculty and staff can enjoy a quiet moment, Scalora says. A small room that has been a docent lounge will be turned into a study gallery for prints from the permanent collection. Renovations also include new carpeting and air-conditioning.

Sherry Fisher