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Portland Museum of Art Plans $85M Expansion

The Portland Museum of Art in Maine has announced that it is seeking new funds to pay for a large expansion of its current site. According to the press reports in the city, the new idea is to take on a multi-storey site that once served as Portland’s Children’s Museum. The plan would allow the art museum to more than double its current size with new gallery space. Following the renovation of the Children’s Museum into an additional facility for the art museum, its current buildings would then undergo significant alterations to complement the new additions.

Founded as the Portland Society of Art in the late nineteenth century, the collection of the Portland Museum of Art is simply too extensive for its current buildings. Made up of around 18,000 individual works of art, the space available to display the collection is nowhere near sufficient, according to the gallery’s management team. The collection includes the likes of Winslow Homer and Andrew Wyeth, both residents of Maine in their day, as well as a number of impressionist painters and some well-known contemporary artists, too, such as Nan Goldin.

Indeed, following a recent gift from a photographer and philanthropist, Judy Glickman Lauder, made up of hundreds of her images, the need for more exhibition space has become even more acute. According to the gallery, there has been no improvement in the museum’s visitor amenities or its galleries display capacity for more than four decades, a remarkable statistic when you consider that the Portland Museum of Art is already the largest public art institution in the entire state.

New Era

Mark Bessire, the museum’s director, said that he thought it was about time the Portland Museum of Art should ‘envision its next great era’. “[The next chapter]… in PMA history should be inspired by new, world-famous collections,” he said. “We are aiming for an architecturally innovative and unified campus.” Bessire went on to say that the expansion project should mean that the art museum will be a better place to serve as a centre for conversations, connections and for the community as a whole. At the moment, the museum director reckons that the gallery is being forced to reduce the sizes of the exhibitions it stages and to relocate some of its programmes and events into marquees. “We no longer want to restrict our capacities due to limitations of our site,” he said.


The planned expansion will be designed with sustainable building materials in mind, according to a press release issued by the Portland Museum of Art. The statement read that it would mean being able to augment the gallery’s total square footage from something in the region of 38,000 to about 100,000 square feet. However, none of the proposals will be possible until it has raised the necessary funds, estimated to be at least $85 million. Consequently, the gallery’s management team has not yet set a deadline for the completion of the project. This will only come about following a fundraising campaign and a design proposal competition to choose an architect to oversee the project. As a result, it is likely to be at least a couple of years before any construction work begins.

If it comes to fruition, the expansion project will constitute the most set of alterations to the museum in the art institution’s 140-year history. Over the last twenty years, the management team at the gallery have tended to prioritise restoration work over new gallery space. Given that three of the four buildings the museum currently occupies are over a hundred years old, this will hardly come as a surprise. However, its last restoration project in 2002 needed to raise some $12 million to be completed. This means that the current project is of an entirely different order both in terms of scope and in terms of the funding that will need to be raised to complete it, too.

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