Northwestern Museum of Arts and Culture celebrates 20 years of renovation and name change


As the holiday season is in full swing, supporters and organizers of the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture have another December birthday to celebrate. This month will be 20 years since the $ 30 million museum renovation and expansion project came to an end.

“Unfortunately, with COVID, we can’t have the big birthday party we wish we had,” said executive director Wes Jessup. Instead, the museum will offer 20% off entry on Sunday. Visitors will also have the chance to hear collections curator Valerie Wahl talk about the history of the museum during a conference at 1 p.m.

When former museum director Janie Johnson signed on in 1999, her main focus was overseeing renovations. Prior to agreeing to take over the project, Johnson was on the verge of retiring from his higher education job. But when the museum’s board approached her and explained the importance of the project, she just couldn’t say no.

“We had about two years to build it and open it,” she said. “It was exhausting, but it was also a big time in my life. And I’m glad I did.

The project, which included renovating Cheney Cowles’ original facility as well as expanding the campus, was never going to be cheap. But Johnson knew where to find help.

State commerce director Lisa Brown, a lawmaker at the time, secured $ 20 million in seed funding while Johnson led the fundraising needed to acquire the remaining $ 10 million.

“I think this is a very good start,” Johnson said, praising Jessup for his efforts over the past five years and especially since the coronavirus pandemic shutdown. “It adds a new dimension to the museum… by offering exciting new exhibits, growing membership and new educational programs.

“He also came at a very difficult time because with the COVID and the restrictions, I think he’s done an amazing job of keeping things really afloat.”

Two decades after completing a renovation project that would bring them into the 21st century, the Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture, formerly the Cheney Cowles Museum, continues to seek new ways to build.

Since 2001, the completed renovations have enabled the MAC to begin hosting larger-scale traveling exhibitions such as “Pompeii: The Immortal City”, “Leonardo da Vinci: Man – Inventor – Genius” from 2011 and, currently, “Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection.

The upcoming “DreamWorks: From Sketch to Screen” is perhaps the best example of how the museum has been able to develop, Jessup said.

Created by ACMI, the museum for screen culture in Melbourne, Australia, the exhibit is a multimedia exploration of DreamWorks’ approach to animation, art, technology and storytelling and s opens at the MAC on March 19. It will run until September 5.

Progressing through four main sections – character, story, world and drawing room – visitors explore the ‘journey from sketch to screen’, while the ‘drawing room’ offers visitors the opportunity to create their own sequences of drawing. hand-drawn animation films using software. developed for DreamWorks animators on the exhibit’s digital animation desktop kiosks.

“We are committed to making this accessible to all families in the region,” Jessup said. “It’s a great opportunity for kids and adults to see the creative process that goes into making a DreamWorks animated film, from sketch to screen. “

Exhibits like this would never have been possible without the renovations of 2001, Jessup said. But today, the MAC has even more hopes on the horizon.

“I look at the last 20 years, I was only here for five of them,” he said. “But I know that over the next 20 years, we’re going to see a lot of exciting new developments and opportunities that we’re here to meet.”

Most museums, Jessup said, are able to maintain permanent exhibits while also featuring traveling and rotating exhibits. But at the moment, while museum organizers would like to have the option, they just don’t have the space.

“I hope that in the future, when we look for ways to serve the community, we will consider adding a few square meters to make the permanent collection stand out in a continuous display that will help tell the regional story,” he said. said.

Jessup also mentioned his intention to expand current exhibits such as ‘Awakenings’, the centerpiece of which includes two canoes carved by members of the Upper Columbia United Tribes. In the spring, visitors will be able to watch a canoe carving itself in real time for six to eight weeks.

“I think the 20th anniversary is an opportunity to look at the next 20 years and the opportunities we have to have a wider impact in the region, to reach more families and… to develop our audience,” said he declared. “Provide the kinds of cultural services that only a museum like ours can.”


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