Seven years ago, Roger Manley had been on his job as director of N.C. State’s art museum for just a few weeks when he got a piece of news that was both good and bad. The good news was that the Gregg Museum of Art & Design would be moving from its cramped space in State’s Talley Student Center.
The bad news was that there wasn’t yet a new space designated for it – or money to make it happen. That led to a prolonged period of searching and fundraising, followed by a couple of years of construction. But the payoff is finally at hand.
Opening Saturday, Aug. 26, is the new, improved and expanded Gregg Museum, which now occupies the old Historic Chancellor’s Residence at 1903 Hillsborough St. with a new building attached at its east end. Combined, the complex has 24,000 square feet of gallery, office, storage and classroom space in an elegant setting near N.C. State’s Memorial Bell Tower, complete with sculpture garden and large manicured lawn spaces front and back.
“I tell people that, other than a nuclear reactor, the two most complicated buildings to build are probably either a hospital or a museum,” Manley said. “Most of it is unseen. You try to end up with pristine, clean spaces, with the stuff that makes that happen hidden away. We have sensors for maintaining security and humidity and temperature controls.”
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The Gregg’s grand opening features a trio of exhibits, mostly drawn from the museum’s permanent collection. It will be a good way to show off the new facility’s display capacity, after four years of being a “museum without walls” and putting exhibits on display elsewhere.
“What I wanted with the new place was a flexible building that wouldn’t get in the way of the art,” Manley said. “Quite a few art museums seem to be a lot more about the building and not the stuff in it, even the Guggenheim. I wanted something that would be second-fiddle to the art we display, very plain and simple yet adaptable.”
As for the new location, that wound up being the result of fortuitous timing. Built in 1928, N.C. State’s Georgian-style Historic Chancellor’s Residence served that purpose for more than 80 years – until a new one opened up on Centennial Campus in 2011.
That was when Gregg management was still in the throes of searching for a new location. Ultimately, more than a dozen spots were considered all over campus before 1903 Hillsborough St. was tapped, with groundbreaking in April of 2015.
“I think we really lucked out with this,” said Manley. “The old chancellor’s residence turned out not only to be the best location, but also the cheapest upfit. It’s also easily adapted to our offices upstairs and galleries downstairs, to go with the new building. We’re also set up well for hosting smaller-scale events like weddings, small symposia, receptions.”
Based on an architectural plan by the Freelon Group, the entire project cost about $9.5 million, $4.6 million of which came from N.C. State’s Talley Student Center renovation fund and other non-state-appropriated funds. Nearly 400 individual donations from alumni, community arts supporters and corporations brought in about another $4 million, with some individual contributions as large as $750,000.
The city of Raleigh also contributed $300,000 in cost-sharing with utilities and infrastructure. And the last piece of the fund-raising puzzle was $650,000 from Wake County’s major facilities capital trust fund, which was awarded in 2015 after Gregg’s initial 2014 application was turned down.
“Fundraising started in 2011, so we’ve been actively involved in this for more than six years,” said Nicole Peterson, N.C. State’s executive director of development for the division of academic and student affairs (and lead fund-raiser for the Gregg expansion project). “It’s been a pretty amazing public-private partnership, which is not always the case with cultural arts organizations.”
Separately money is still being raised by Eidolon Design and Arrowhead Design to pay for a sculpture the artists are creating from two large oaks that had to be removed for the new building.
Critical mass of art
Another bonus of the Gregg’s location is its close proximity to Theatre in the Park and Pullen Arts Center, which have both also been undergoing renovations. With N.C. State’s colleges of design and humanities also nearby, that establishes the university’s eastern perimeter as its unofficial arts campus – with settings in Gregg’s landscaped grounds that might work as venues for small outdoor concerts, films and even dance performances.
“Ultimately, it should be a great arrangement between all three organizations,” Manley said. “We’ll have an arts plaza between us with expanded parking, and I think it will create a critical mass of arts activity in this area. One of our mandates in getting money from Wake County is to encourage tourism and visitorship from outside the region. I’m not at all worried about achieving that.”
Indeed, a revenue stream for the new facility will be rentals for weddings and other private events. Private events like that aside, however, admission to Gregg events and exhibits remains free and will stay that way.
“It has been free, and the intention is that it will always continue to be free,” Peterson said. “The primary purpose of the art museum is to provide accessibility to the arts. That’s built into our mission.”
The grand opening of N.C. State’s Gregg Museum of Art & Design will be at 10 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, with a ribbon-cutting and family-friendly activities.
Opening exhibits are “Show & Tell – Celebrating the Collections of the Gregg Museum of Art & Design,” “A Door Is Not a Window – Herb Jackson Paintings” and “Treasures of Native America – Selections From the Drs. Norman and Gilda Greenberg Gift.”
Regular museum hours are 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (open until 7 p.m. the first Friday of each month); 1-5 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday. Admission is free. For details, see gregg.arts.ncsu.edu.
More on the sculpture
To find out more on the Gregg Tree Project, see a video by David Hambridge at http://greggtreeproject.com/.