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A rendering of the Muskegon Museum of Art’s $11.2 million expansion. A rendering of the Muskegon Museum of Art’s $11.2 million expansion. COURTESY PHOTO

Muskegon Museum of Art to break ground on $11.2M expansion with spotlight on art by women

BY Friday, June 10, 2022 02:24pm

MUSKEGON — The Muskegon Museum of Art has received an extensive painting collection by women artists and more than $11 million in cash donations to launch an expansion that will more than double the size of the museum.

The 150 art pieces were painted by women in the figurative realist style and were donated to the Muskegon Museum of Art by San Antonio-based art collectors Steven Alan Bennett and Elaine Melotti Schmidt. 

Bennett and Schmidt’s $10 milion art collection, which also came with a $1.5 million cash donation, will position the museum to join the handful of museums in the world with dedicated spaces for displaying work by women artists. 

Only 11 percent of art acquired by the country’s top museums for permanent collections was created by women in the past decade, according to a 2019 survey completed by art market website ArtNet. 

The donations are a “once-in-a-lifetime gift,” said Muskegon Museum of Art Executive Director Kirk Hallman. 

“In the context of an expansion project, it is all the more redefining,” Hallman said in a statement. “This gifted artwork adds an entirely new dimension and balance to our already impressive collection. In addition, the Bennett-Schmidt gift is a call to action institutionally, encouraging both the Muskegon Museum of Art and other museums to continually expand opportunities for women artists.”

A groundbreaking ceremony will be held on Saturday for the museum’s $11.2 million expansion project. Officials expect to complete the expansion by 2024. The 26,000-square-foot addition will include three new rotating galleries, two classrooms, a rooftop terrace, museum store, connecting and support space, and a public plaza. 

The expansion will allow the museum, which opened in 1912 and houses more than 5,000 pieces of art, to display more of its art at one time.

“With today’s major structural expansion and new artwork, the Muskegon Museum of Art will continue attracting tourists from across the state and uplifting the local economy,” Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said in a statement. “For 110 years, the museum has been an anchor of this community, and I am proud that it will remain a cultural destination for decades to come. I am especially proud that the expansion will create and dedicate space for women artists. Projects like this are helping us grow our economy and build vibrant communities where people want to live, work, and play.”

Donated paintings include work by more than 115 artists, including Artemisia Gentileschi, Mary Cassatt, Agnes Martin, Elaine de Kooning, Harmonia Rosales, Julie Bell, Andrea Kowch, Katie O’Hagan, and dozens of others representing contemporary and historical women figurative realist painters.

In addition to Bennett and Schmidt’s $1.5 million, monetary donations include $1 million from the Van Kampen Boyer Molinari Foundation; $1 million from the city of Muskegon; $500,000 each from Carol R. Folkert and family, the Hilt Foundation, the Patrick O’Leary Foundation, Brad and Kathleen Playford, Shape Corp., and Mrs. Shaw Walker; as well as 250 additional gifts totaling $11.1 million to date.

The expansion project was designed by Boston-based Ann Beha Architects with support from Grand Rapids-based Mathison | Mathison Architects. Grand Rapids-based Construction Simplified serves as the general contractor.

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