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the arts

Austin's Cultural Makeover

Fri., Feb. 20, 2004

Austin's Cultural Makeover

Jack S. Blanton Museum of Art

Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at Speedway

Project proposed in: 1997

Architect: Herzog & de Meuron Arkitekten (1998); Kallmann McKinnell & Wood (2000)

Original cost: $30 million

Revised cost: $83.5 million

Current status: under construction, scheduled to open 2005

As Austin grew in the 1990s, so grew the art museum at UT-Austin. Additions to its Latin American art and print holdings and the purchase of the Suida-Manning Collection left the museum in serious need of more room than it had in the Art Building and Ransom Center. In February 1997, UT President Robert Berdahl announced that a new $30 million museum would be built at Red River & 26th streets. With $27 million in place – thanks to $12 million from Houston Endowment, $10 million from James Michener, and $5 million from Bernard and Audre Rapoport – the museum named for Houston Endowment chair Jack Blanton was off to a smooth start. Alas, then things began to get bumpy. The Swiss firm Herzog & de Meuron Arkitekten won the design commission, but then its designs were heavily criticized (most notoriously by UT regents Rita Clements and Tony Sanchez). After this happened twice, the firm bowed out, sparking campus protests and Lawrence Speck's resignation as dean of the UT School of Architecture and forcing the regents to start the search for an architect all over. Almost a year later, the regents settled on the Boston firm of Kallmann McKinnell & Wood, who in turn delivered a much more conventional design to the tastes of the regents. By this time, the museum site had been moved to the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Speedway, across from the Bullock Museum, and the opening pushed back to 2005. Final designs split the museum into two buildings: a 35,000-square-foot educational center, with space for administrative offices, and a 100,000-square-foot gallery building to house the Blanton's permanent collection, exhibition space, a print and drawing study center, and storage and collection care areas. This much larger facility is now estimated to cost $83.5 million, of which the Blanton has raised some $66 million. Construction started in October 2002 and is halfway complete.

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