A First Look At The Future PMA [Event Recap] — Portland Museum of Art

A First Look At The Future PMA [Event Recap] — Portland Museum of Art

“Good evening, and welcome to this exciting and thrilling event. My name is Mark Bessire, and I am the Judy and Leonard Lauder Director of the Portland Museum of Art. I am honored to be with you tonight as we learn more about the future of our beloved community treasure, the PMA.

I would like to thank the PMA Board, staff, volunteers and communities for all the work done to get us here tonight. Thank you!

I want to emphasize the word community here, because it is central to what we have been for nearly a century and a half, as well as what we will become in the future.

The Portland Museum of Art was founded 140 years ago by artists living here in Maine. It grew quickly, as community members donated their time, energy, and passion for the arts, enabling the PMA to establish a downtown Portland campus. For the next 100 years, that campus grew to include the McLellan House, LDM Sweat Memorial Galleries, and the John Quincy Clapp House.

As art from donors throughout our communities began filling up the walls and spaces within the museum, our communities came together again in the late 1970’s for—what was at the time—the largest major expansion in PMA history.

That expansion, a courageous and iconic design of the Charles Shipman Payson Wing by Harry Cobb of I. M. Pei & Partners, was a result of collection growth, campus limitations, and community support. Since 1982 the Payson building has anchored the dynamic and world-renowned arts district of Portland and enabled millions of people to discover and connect with the transformative power of art and Maine’s cultural history.

But a lot has changed in 40 years:

Our collection has grown exponentially, and in the last decade alone has diversified deliberately and more quickly than ever. Our current exhibition, Presence: The Photography Collection of Judy Glickman Lauder, features approximately 150 photographs on view that are also promised gifts to the collection. However, this isn’t even ¼ of the nearly 700 artworks that make up the total of that gift, generously promised by Judy Glickman Lauder.

Barbara Goodbody, Richard Estes, Bruce Brown, David and Eva Bradford, the Berger Collection Educational Trust, and Alex Katz Foundation have also made significant and transformative art gifts in recent years, expanding the narratives we can tell and connections we can make.

Our campus has changed. We’ve restored the McLellan House, purchased, restored, and opened the Winslow Homer Studio, and purchased 97 Spring Street and 142 Free Street.

And yet our campus has reached its limit, with attendance already at 2x the planned capacity of the Payson Wing. In just 5 years, we will exceed 3x the planned capacity of our campus.  We need to grow, as we are being forced to make tough choices: reducing exhibition size, relocating marquee programs (such as this evening’s), and restricting capacity due to the physical limitations of our campus.

Critically, we, as a community, have changed as well. Our needs and expectations from our institutions have changed, and nowhere is that clearer than for museums. We must do more to create opportunity—on our walls, in our galleries, through our programs, on our board, and within our staff—to ensure the PMA experience reflects your experience, lifestyle, and values. We must platform individuals and communities that have been excluded from museums and “the art world”, embodying our values through artwork, exhibitions, programs, and didactics by and in partnership with our BIPOC communities, immigrants and new Mainers, LGBTQIA2S+ neighbors, our elders, youth, and other communities across Maine. We must be at the center of our communities, which requires dialogue, trust, and transparency. And we must ensure we are championing a more diverse, inclusive, and sustainable region and moving at the speed of trust.

Most importantly, we must become a community institution that is rooted in belonging.

So what is belonging?

Together with our communities—indeed, many of you in attendance tonight—we have thought deeply and reflected on what belonging really means, and how it comes to life within the campus and collections of the Portland Museum of Art. For the last several years, we have held listening sessions, led focus groups, and collected surveys to understand what you want and need from your museum. Your feedback has informed every step of our unification and expansion milestones, and the back and forth with our communities is the defining quality of this unique project.

It’s why we decided to hold an international design competition in the first place, wanting to create as many opportunities for insight into our future as possible. We were blown away by the results: The competition attracted submissions from 104 teams representing 20 countries as diverse as Denmark, Japan, the United Arab Emirates, and everywhere in between. In total, more than 250 firms participated as part of the 104 submitting teams, with 46% of all lead architecture firms founded or owned by people of color or women.

Each of the four fabulous, world-renowned, and diverse finalists you’ll hear from tonight began with our challenge to create museum space centered in belonging. What you’ll see shortly  – is that means flexible, open-ended, and barrier free space where people can be themselves. It means room to come together to exchange ideas and perspectives, and room to get away from it all, connecting one-on-one with a work of art. It means a sustainable footprint, becoming one of the handful of green museums in the world. It means galleries that let the collection shine while platforming multivocal perspectives into art, art history, and art’s future. It means exhibitions and programs that spark our imagination, challenge us, and capture our wonder.

It means a museum that leads in accessibility, showcases the best of Maine for the world, and brings the world to our doorstep, expanding our awareness of each other and the values we share. In truth, it means far more than I or our guests could ever share in a single evening, and the possibilities are limited only by our imaginations.

It’s time to optimize and utilize the full campus to serve our community.

As we hear from our finalists and experience their visions for the PMA and our region, I’d like to underscore that we are viewing concepts, not plans. The challenge presented to these teams was not to design THE new building, rather develop ideas for what our campus could be, rooted in our values and in our mission of Art for All. The concepts presented tonight represent the qualities and character that make each of these finalist teams unique—not to provide exact blueprints for what’s to come.

That is because we still need something: you.

We are gathered here tonight to kick off the next phase of what continues to be a community led, informed, and driven process. Just as focus groups, community forums, and surveys informed our case for campus unification and expansion, we need your participation again to help select a winner. We want to know what captures your attention and embodies your values. We want to hear about what you like. How well do the finalists convey the PMA’s values and mission? Do their concepts embody our region, shared history, and potential future? At every step in this process, you have been our guiding light, and your voice is needed now more than ever.

It’s all part of the paradigm shift we announced a year ago as a museum: to fully deliver on the promise of Art for All. Those three words, Art for All, seem simple, but are actually incredibly nuanced, complex, and worthy of deep consideration. We must work together as stewards of our city, state and region to fully realize them.

We hope, that after hearing from our guests and seeing their incredible visions for your museum, you are moved to rally behind this project with your time, energy, and generosity. We have already raised about a third of the projected costs for this project, as well as received roughly an equal amount in new art, yet the majority of donations will come in small amounts from thousands of people just like you. At the end of this project, we hope to have a building for our communities funded by our communities, and we ask for your support to inspire your neighbors, friends, and family. This is a museum for all, and we need everyone on board to bring these visions to life.

Thank you for participating in this process tonight and in the months ahead. Maine is a special place, and together we can build upon what makes it great while ensuring it thrives long after we are gone, for generations to come.

Now I’d like to introduce Susanna Sirefman, founder and president of Dovetail Design Strategists. Dovetail has been a critical partner in designing and leading our international design competition. Architect selection for cultural institutions seeking design excellence is the main focus of Susanna’s firm. Susanna trained as an architect at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London, is a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, has authored five books on contemporary architecture as well as taught on the faculty of Parsons School of Design and the City College of New York School of Architecture. Susanna’s deep knowledge of the field and expertise has enabled us all to be here tonight, about to hear from these stellar teams, and imagine the future of the PMA. Please join me in welcoming Susanna to the stage.”

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