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Smithsonian American Art Museum announces major renovation of its Renwick Gallery
View of the Grand Salon gallery space inside the Renwick Gallery, home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s craft and decorative art program, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Ron Blunt.

WASHINGTON, DC.- A major renovation of the Renwick Gallery, home of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s craft and decorative art program since 1972, is in the design phase. This project is the first comprehensive renovation to the building in 40 years.

The Renwick Gallery will close to the public in early 2014 with plans to reopen in 2016.

Design is underway for completely renewed infrastructure, enhanced historic features and other upgrades to the National Historic Landmark building that will make it a 21st-century destination attraction. Funding for the renovation is a 50-50 public-private partnership.

“The Renwick Gallery is the capital city’s first purpose-built museum,” said Elizabeth Broun, The Margaret and Terry Stent Director of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “This elegant historic building was called ‘the American Louvre’ when it first opened, and it symbolized the nation’s aspirations for a great civilization and a place among the great nations of the world. The Smithsonian American Art Museum recognizes the deep historical significance of this noble landmark and premier showcase for American ingenuity and creativity.”

America has always been a nation of “makers,” experimenting with materials and creating innovative designs, both functional and aesthetic. The words “Dedicated to Art” are inscribed above the Renwick Gallery’s front entry. The collection, exhibition program and publications presented by the Renwick Gallery highlight the best craft objects and decorative arts from the 19th century to the present and honor the building’s original purpose.

The Smithsonian has hired Westlake Reed Leskosky, based in Cleveland with offices in Washington, D.C., as the lead design architects for this major renovation and enhancement effort. Plans for renovating the 34,000-square-foot masonry structure include replacement of all heating, air conditioning, electrical, plumbing and fire-suppression systems as well as upgrades to security, phone and data communication systems. Wireless access will be installed throughout the building. The original window configuration will be re-created, two vaulted ceilings in the second floor galleries will be restored and the basement will be reconfigured for improved staff offices and workshops.

A key goal is to make the Renwick the first all-LED illuminated museum in the United States, which will dramatically enhance energy efficiency. The new lighting system will reduce energy needs by as much as 70 percent, which combined with other infrastructure improvements, will significantly reduce the building’s environmental footprint.

In 2011, the Save America’s Treasures program of the National Park Service awarded a $335,000 grant for the renovation. Two recently endowed curatorial positions—The Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator of American Craft and Decorative Art and the Lloyd Herman Curator of Craft—offer dedicated leadership for the program. The Ryna and Melvin Cohen Family Foundation Endowment supports the “Renwick Craft Invitational” biennial exhibition series, which highlights outstanding craft artists who are deserving of wider national recognition.

The Renwick Gallery attracted 175,000 visitors in fiscal year 2012. A highly praised recent 40th anniversary exhibition called “40 under 40: Craft Futures,” organized by Nicholas R. Bell, The Fleur and Charles Bresler Curator of American Craft and Decorative Art, pointed to new directions in the field of craft. The Smithsonian Channel produced a documentary that looked behind-the-scenes to capture the making of the exhibition.

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