The new KMAC: more space, transparency and big ideas

Jun 22, 2016 at 10:53 am
Associate Curator Joey Yates and Communications Manager Emily Miles on KMAC's new staircase. (photo by Nik Vechery)
Associate Curator Joey Yates and Communications Manager Emily Miles on KMAC's new staircase. (photo by Nik Vechery)

“Pardon our progress. Exciting changes in the works.”

Propped by a door, this sign belonging to BosseMattingly Constructors sums up perfectly what the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft wants us to know.

The renovations on KMAC, at 715 W. Main St., began in September 2015. The New York architecture firm, Christoff:Finio, is leading the $3-million redesign.

Renovating a building from 1885, with a cast-iron façade, is tricky business, especially since Louisville has the second-largest concentration of cast-iron storefronts in America. It’s no surprise that the original reopening date of June 4 had to be postponed.

That bad news arrived May 25.

“I literally just walked out of a construction meeting that has shaken up everything,” Communications Manager Emily Miles said in an email. “At this point, it has become apparent that we will not be opening on June 4. We’re all a bit stunned right now. Renovating a historic building like ours has come with a need [for] careful construction and close consideration of historic preservation. We are now in a position to take the necessary time to do the best we can for the building.”

The finishing touches are happening while executive director and chief curator, Aldy Milliken, is at the Getty Leadership Institute in Los Angeles. He’s one of 36 museum leaders selected to participate in the six-week program. Luckily, he will be back in time for the reopening (he returns June 27).

The new open-house date is Friday, July 1, beginning at 10 a.m., and continuing through the First Friday Trolley Hop. The museum has free admission for one year, thanks to sponsorship by Delta Dental of Kentucky.

Expect to see the most dramatic and instantly visible changes on the first floor. Let’s just say, almost everything from the old layout is gone.

The redesign has given the museum an open lobby. This was achieved by moving the central staircase to the side, and removing the glass art wall by Ken von Roenn that once separated the gallery space from the shop. The new staircase, made from rusted steel with white oak stairs, is now visible from the street.

This type of floor plan is enhanced by an abundance of windows. “Anywhere there is wood [now] there will be glass,” Miles said, wearing a T-shirt stating the KMAC marketing slogan/guiding philosophy of “Art is the Big Idea” (the rest of the slogan is “Craft is the Process”).

The new public space will house an all-purpose reception/desk hub. The shop and the new café are also on this floor.

The expanse functions as a welcoming set of open arms, with Studio 715 as the museum’s heartbeat. This unassuming stage area is a blank slate, just waiting for a variety of art activities, lectures and performances to come its way. Studio 715 is where KMAC publicly comes alive.

New to the museum is the multipurpose Visitors Services. It’ll be on the first floor, as well as throughout the galleries. “The [part-time employees are] students who have art history and artist backgrounds,” said Miles. “Their tasks are of docent and security, also reception.”

Associate Curator Joey Yates said, “We [the staff] aren’t downstairs every day. Visitor Services becomes the face — the engagement.”

The additional floors also got facelifts. The second floor, minus the old central staircase, is more streamlined. The exhibition galleries, including a video room, have been designed with artists in mind.

When I mentioned the third floor is more open now, Yates said “Oh god, yeah.” Now that there’s more space, there “will be a focus on collecting,” he said. The permanent collection will be displayed on this floor. KMAC owns approximately 300 pieces, including the glass art wall from the first floor.

The educational area is also here. It houses the studio of the artist-in-residence, large work space and kiln.

The administrative offices are on the fourth floor.

KMAC plans to do four major shows a year. “The first exhibition [Material Issue] has been designed to articulate the mission of what KMAC is all about,” said Yates. “From the artists featured in this exhibition to those in the KMAC permanent collection, [the show] will continue the museum’s efforts to resist the narrow definitions and hierarchical classifications of creative practice. The new KMAC begins with a show of contemporary artists who introduce important material examinations that reflect our current time and place.”

“Material Issue” will be on display from the July 1 reopening through September.

Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft

715 W. Main St., 589-0102

Free; Times vary