Museum for African Art Scales Back Construction Plans

A rendering of the original Museum of African Art lobby, featuring rare Ghanaian wood. Photo: Neoscape/Robert A. M. Stern Architects
A rendering of the original Museum of African Art lobby, featuring rare Ghanaian wood. Photo: Neoscape/Robert A. M. Stern Architects

The new Museum for African Art, which was originally scheduled to open on New York’s Museum Mile at Fifth Avenue and 110th Street in 2009, has announced plans to dramatically scale back its construction plans in order meet budgetary shortfalls, reports the New York Times.

Once budgeted at $135 million, the project now stands to spend a more modest $95 million, and has eliminated pricey features such as a curved ceiling of rare wood imported from Ghana (it will be replaced with polished concrete), a spiraling staircase, and a classical theater and restaurant. The institution sought to sell naming rights to its new building for $50 million, but found no takers.

The lobby of the Africa Center in its current, unfinished state. Photo: the Africa Center.

The lobby of the Africa Center in its current, unfinished state.
Photo: the Africa Center.

 

The museum was founded in an Upper East Side townhouse 30 years ago. Plans for the flagship have been in the works since 1997, and the recently scuttled design was unveiled back in 2007.

Other museums have also adjusted their plans in recent years when faced with similar difficulties. The Dia Art Foundation abandoned plans to build a new home near the High Line in 2006, opting for a smaller office and event space at a Chelsea property the organization already owned. The Hamptons’ Parrish Art Museum scaled down its construction plans from $80 million to just $26 million after the 2008 recession.

Even completing an ambitious new building isn’t a guarantee an institution can truly afford it—after 10 years in its Midtown flagship, the American Folk Art Museum was forced to sell its home to the Museum of Modern Art (which, as artnet News reported, has since begun demolishing the building), retreating to its smaller Lincoln Center base.

A rendering of the redesigned lobby of the Africa Center, replacing the expensive wood with concrete finishes. Photo: G TECTS and MARCH.

A rendering of the redesigned lobby of the Africa Center, replacing the expensive wood with concrete finishes.
Photo: G TECTS and MARCH.

The Museum for African Art did its best to attract donors, even going so far as to change its name to the Africa Center last summer in order to expand its mission and, by extension, the types of organizations that might be interested in lending their support. Despite these efforts, the struggling institution raised less than $1 million in 2013, down from more than $7 million the prior year.

Just as the building plans were revamped, the museum’s staff was pared down, from 24 trustees to six. Former first daughter Chelsea Clinton, vice president of the Clinton Foundation, has joined the board, which has already pledged $9 million.

With its new, less costly construction plan in motion, the Museum for African Art only needs to raise $11 million more to complete the project—a target it expects to meet by October.


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