Russell Panczenko knew expanding the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s art museum would be a challenge, but he said he didn’t realize it would be a $43 million, nearly 20-year challenge.
“There were lots of hoops to go through,” said Panczenko, director of the Chazen Museum of Art, formerly known as the Elvehjem Museum of Art.
Panczenko began the long process of expanding the museum just a few years after he began working there.
Nearly 20 years later, construction is finally under way.
The need for additional space can best be demonstrated by the expansion of the museum’s collections, he said. When it opened in 1970, the museum had 1,500 works of art, Panczenko said. It now has 19,000.
Though he initially had his heart set on an even larger expansion, Panczenko said, he is happy with the 86,000 square feet of new space the museum will include when construction wraps in June 2011.
“Museums are very special entities,” he said. “It’s all about what happens inside — the flow of people, the exhibits.”
In addition to working with the university to approve the project details, one of the biggest challenges for Panczenko and the museum, he said, was raising the nearly $50 million in private money initially required for the project.
Those efforts were aided significantly in 2005, when UW-Madison alumni Simona and Jerome A. Chazen donated $20 million, which later was increased to $25 million, to the project, prompting the museum’s name change. The Elvehjem name lives on, however, as the existing building is now called the Conrad A. Elvehjem Building.
With nearly half the needed money in hand, museum leaders kicked into high gear their search for more money, Panczenko said.
“After that, people began to feel comfortable chipping in whatever they could,” he said.
Another big break came when the project was put out to bid in early 2009, he said. Due to the recession, Panczenko said, contractors hungry for work came through with lower-than-anticipated bids.
Some aspects of the initial design had to be sacrificed to make the expansion a reality, he said, including plans to move the museum’s administrative offices to the new building. The decision was made to focus on the most important aspects of the new space, Panczenko said, such as additional gallery room and an auditorium for speakers and film displays.
“Film has become a major art form,” he said, “so it’s important to have a place for that.”
Plans are already in the works to show off the new space, Panczenko said, with new exhibits for the October 2011 opening. Though construction on the expansion will wrap up four months prior, museum staff members need the additional time to set up the exhibits and gallery space.
And though the massive expansion is less than half complete, Panczenko already has his eye on the museum’s next major project: refurbishment of the existing 90,000-square-foot building.
“We’ll give it some time,” he said. “Five years after the opening (of the expansion), we’ll give the original side a face-lift.”