It might not have been visible amid the pageantry, smiling crowds and world-class artwork, but more than 20 years of blood, sweat and tears lay behind the grand opening of the expanded Chazen Museum of Art in October 2011.
Museum director Russell Panczenko was beaming after a long path of relationship building, gift agreements and art acquisitions led to that day, but he knew the museum’s work was far from completed. “With the opening events, we really wanted to make clear that we saw the museum as a community resource, taking the Wisconsin Idea to heart,” he said.
Community performances featured, among others, Native American dancers, the Latino Art Strings and the Mount Zion Choir. “On that Saturday we opened to the public, both Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and Chancellor David Ward spoke and did an official opening of the doors to the community,” Panczenko said. “That demonstrated the community connection much better than words could. We need to maintain and make a commitment to bringing in those new groups of people, letting them see that art is for them.”
A lead gift of $25 million from Jerome and Simona Chazen inspired other generous donors to come forward with significant gifts for the building. With additional gifts for acquisition and donated collections, the Chazen Museum of Art is raising its stature among university museums.
“It was so gratifying to see the positive response,” Panczenko said. “The comment I was getting was, ‘This is like New York, and we have it right here in Madison.’” As Jerome Chazen remarked to Simona after a pre-opening tour, “This is a real museum.”
The comment I was getting was, ‘This is like New York, and we have it right here in Madison.
The Chazen Museum is a cornerstone of the visionary East Campus Gateway, which, when completed, will provide a swath of carefully planned development from Regent Street to Lake Mendota. The Chazen is the first phase of an arts presence that will be joined by a new School of Music Performance Facility, to be followed by an academic art building.
“Unless you get a lead gift of 50 percent or more, a project like this can’t be done,” Panczenko said. “The Chazens stepped forward and our advisory council and other key people saw this was more than just a dream.”
The expanded space provides the Chazen with an opportunity to spotlight gifts such as the Lane Sculpture Collection, an estate gift from Terese and Alvin Lane. The roots of that bequest were long and deep.
“After 1995, we did an exhibition of some of the Lane collection to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the museum,” Panczenko said. “Alvin was so thrilled. It showed what the impact can be in our space. You can talk about it, but when somebody sees it in the galleries, it’s different.”
Much like the museum itself, seeing is indeed believing.