Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Announces $35 Million Capital Program
Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum today announced a $35 million program to nearly double exhibition space, enhance educational services, accommodate growth of its permanent collection and boost its endowment to support operating costs. The program, which results from a two-year master planning process conducted by architectural firm Beyer Blinder Belle, with input from the museum’s board, staff and the Smithsonian, will meet institutional goals without the construction of a new facility.
Cooper-Hewitt’s board of trustees has already raised approximately $10 million for endowment funds towards this $35 million goal. The board, under the leadership of Harvey Krueger and Michael Francis, together with director Paul Warwick Thompson, will be leading this campaign.
Through renovation and re-programming of portions of the Carnegie Mansion and the adjacent Fox-Miller townhouses owned by the museum, the project will increase the museum's total space for the display of decorative objects and design works from 10,000 to 18,000 square feet. Among the major components of the project are:
- Entire second floor will be dedicated to exhibition space
- Creation of a dramatic new gallery on the third floor of the mansion, which currently houses the library and administrative staff
- Relocation of the library to the Fox-Miller townhouses adjacent to Cooper-Hewitt’s Master's program, thereby unifying resources for graduate students
- Improved and enlarged facilities for exhibition preparation and collections management
- Relocation of staff and administrative offices to the Fox-Miller townhouses
- Relocation of long-term collection storage and the creation of a visitor study center at a new facility off-site
“We are committed to this historic location on Museum Mile, and our goal is to increase space for exhibitions and on-site public programming, expand conservation facilities and collection storage, and enhance online access,” said director Paul Warwick Thompson.
The master plan was unanimously approved by the Cooper-Hewitt board of trustees in a meeting on Monday, May 22, 2006. “The Carnegie Mansion remains our home base for serving the public’s interest in design,” said board chairman Paul Herzan. “We are committed to achieving the museum’s programmatic goals while remaining responsible stewards of these historic buildings.”
One of the primary challenges involves optimizing the Carnegie Mansion as a public space, while simultaneously providing appropriate facilities for the collections, library and staff. In order to accommodate future growth in each of these areas approximately half of collection storage will be relocated to a state-of-the-art museum storage facility, with increased conservation labs and a new photography studio dedicated to digitizing the collection, as well as a visitor study center for scholars and researchers. Nearly 50 percent of the collection, approximately 110,000 objects, representing the most significant and most frequently researched objects, will remain at the current campus as a core resource for graduate students and scholars. “Cooper-Hewitt is pursuing a reinvigorated collections acquisition strategy,” said Thompson. “It would be short-sighted to limit the growth of our collection simply because we do not have adequate storage on 5th Avenue.”
Cooper-Hewitt’s campus is comprised of the Andrew Carnegie mansion, located at 2 East 91st Street, the Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden which fronts 5th Avenue, as well as two townhouses, the Miller house and the Fox house adjacent to the garden on East 90th Street. For the past 20 years Cooper-Hewitt has worked with various architecture firms to maximize space within the Carnegie Mansion and the adjacent townhouses on 90th Street. “Space is a challenge for any organization, and Cooper-Hewitt has been wrestling with this issue since it first opened in 1976,” said Undersecretary of Art for the Smithsonian Ned Rifkin. “The Board is prudently looking at recapturing space in the mansion.” In 1984 an expansion plan was developed with Hugh Hardy Holtzman, but was never implemented. In 1998 Polshek & Partners improved wheelchair accessibility and created a link, the Agnes Bourne Bridge Gallery, between the mansion and the townhouses. In spring 2004, the museum embarked on its most comprehensive and thorough design feasibility study of its physical space funded by the Smithsonian, with the goal of enhancing exhibition and visitor facilities. This feasibility study included a needs assessment to ensure that Cooper-Hewitt has the right spaces to meet its programmatic vision. “In order to maintain its standing with other world-class design museums, Cooper-Hewitt needs more exhibition and collection storage space, and this plan will accomplish that goal,” said board president Jim Rosenthal.
Under Thompson’s tenure, which began in March 2001, Cooper-Hewitt has already made significant progress renovating its physical plant and enhancing public access to its collections, with the opening in 2003 of its first ever gallery dedicated to the permanent collection, the Nancy and Edwin Marks Gallery. The museum is continuing to enhance its exhibition and visitor facilities, with spring 2006 marking the opening of Cooper-Hewitt’s radically refurbished ground floor, including the Target National Design Education Center and a new 1,300-square-foot gallery which will be used for both exhibitions of contemporary design, such as the “Solos” series, and historically-themed exhibitions drawing from the museum’s collections. The new education facility is equipped with state-of-the-art data capture technology, enabling the museum to document programs and make them available via the Web. Educators who cannot visit the Center physically will be able to download content, such as lesson plans and web casts of previous events. Cooper-Hewitt is looking at a significant virtual expansion with the development of the Online National Design Museum where design-focused lesson plans, aligned to the National Standards for all grade ranges, will help teachers learn ways to promote innovation, critical thinking, visual literacy, and problem-solving across the curriculum. The lesson plans will demonstrate how design thinking and the design process can enhance the teaching of mathematics, science, language arts, and history, as well as art. Educators, students, design professionals, and the general public will be able to access design education resources and a greatly increased number of collection objects via www.cooperhewitt.org.