Portland Museum of Art to take time out for cleaning, reorganization

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PORTLAND — The Portland Museum of Art will close for about six weeks early in 2016 as it works to make its collection more accessible to patrons.

The work is part of a new strategic “vision” for the museum, which will close in mid-January 2016 and reopen in mid-February.

Museum Director Mark Bessire said the goal of the strategic plan is to “think about what we would look like in 20 years.” It emphasizes expansion and growth, and a master plan for the institution’s downtown campus. 

“The campus master plan will go into the hands of the new strategic planning committee, and they’ll start work at the beginning of next year,” Bessire said. 

The closing is required for painting and deep cleaning that can’t be done while there is art on the walls. Bessire said it is easier to do it all at one time, so all the art will come down, and the entire building will be upgraded, with some physical changes. Then the collection will be reinstalled, with new signage and wall text.

Bessire said there will be some minor construction, but “nothing that would change the building drastically.” He said most of it will have to do with the visitor experience in the museum and viewing art. He said special city permitting is not necessary because nothing on the outside of the museum will change.

He said current spaces are not adequate for the volume of membership activities the museum offers. “Our main mission is about art and culture,” Bessire said, “but we’re also moving into the notion of being much more of a community place.”

“The museum has to figure out how to adapt to changing conditions (and) keep thriving in the future,” he said.

He said the museum has recently spent a lot of time and resources restoring the Winslow Homer Studio  in Scarborough, and now believes it is time “to focus back on the collection itself and the nuts and bolts of museum activities,” which is supporting and displaying the permanent collection.  

“I love the way we show our collection, but it’s been shown in that manner for a long enough time,” Bessire said. “… There’s not much energy or activity behind it, because we don’t change it very much. It’s time for a real shakeup.”

He added the museum needs to adapt different kinds of displays to remain current: “Putting works next to each other that start conversations, not just putting a few works together because they were done in the 1920s,” he said.

Bessire said the museum has fallen behind other museums, in that the only way to see the collection is to come in and see it personally. To fix this, he said, the museum must digitize its collection “so that our visitors can go see what’s here before they come” and other museums can see what’s available to borrow.

First, the museum will publish a catalog, he said, and create an art study room where visitors can request to see art in the collection that isn’t out on display.

“So it’s not just looking at the art on the wall, you can make an appointment and come see something if you’d like,” Bessire said.

An anonymous New England donor gave a $250,000 grant to PMA for the planning phases, and challenged the Museum to raise $300,000 of its own by Jan. 31, 2015. If it does, the donor will give an additional $150,000.

The museum has already raised about half of that, Bessire said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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The Portland Museum of Art at 7 Congress Square will close for six weeks in early 2016, while galleries are reorganized and renovated.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.