Arts & Theater

Crocker Art Museum celebrates 5 years of its new building, new visitors

From left, Vivian Lin, 7, Katie Locke, 8, and Chloe Lanterman, 5, with grandmother Marilyn Cottini, all of Sacramento, decorate party hats at the five-year celebration for the Crocker Art Museum expansion in downtown Sacramento on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015.
From left, Vivian Lin, 7, Katie Locke, 8, and Chloe Lanterman, 5, with grandmother Marilyn Cottini, all of Sacramento, decorate party hats at the five-year celebration for the Crocker Art Museum expansion in downtown Sacramento on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. apayne@sacbee.com

Standing on the skywalk linking the historic Crocker mansion to the Teel Family Pavilion feels like lingering in a portal between two worlds. On one side, ornate 19th century ballrooms display fine china against backdrops of magenta and gold. On the other, huge glass windows shed light on African sculptures posed on black marble floors and against stark-white walls.

The Teel Family Pavilion, launched on Oct. 10, 2010, as an addition to the original 1885 Crocker gallery, celebrated its fifth birthday Saturday with festivities throughout the museum. Looking back on its $100 million expansion, museum staff and visitors said the renovation transformed not just the physical building, but the culture and community that now surrounds it.

Seeing the way the new museum connects to the old, it feels so open. I feel like I can see the whole space and I’m not missing anything

Visitor Andie Miller, 26

As the first public art museum founded in the Western United States, the Crocker has long been a hub for appreciators of fine art. Prior to the expansion, only 4 percent of the museum’s collection could be displayed, leading staff to triple the building’s square footage in 2010.

With the shiny new space came multicultural exhibits, family-friendly programming, new lectures and a calendar full of community events. Those welcoming features have drawn people who may never have stepped into the old Crocker, said museum director Lial Jones.

13,000 households have Crocker memberships, compared to 6,000 pre-expansion

“I think art museums are places of joy,” she said. “And if someone wants to have a temple-like experience where they can have a reverential experience with a single work of art, I want them to find that here. But I want there to be more than that.”

Special gallery tours are now in place for people suffering from chronic pain and people with dementia. Children-specific programs might involve making music to go along with an artwork, or creating an original piece in the Wonder Lab. The museum is increasingly adding evening social programming for adult museum-goers, including the 21+ Neo-Crocker bash on Saturday night.

The new additions, physical or otherwise, have tripled the number of yearly museum visitors from about 100,000 pre-expansion to 300,000 currently. That makes the Crocker the 34th most visited museum in North America.

Memberships have more than doubled in the last five years, with 13,000 households now signed up compared with 6,000 in 2010. The museum’s endowment, though still smaller than Jones would like it to be, has grown from $3 million to $15 million in the last five years.

At the Saturday celebration, about 800 attendees perused the museum’s permanent and visiting exhibits. The crowd ranged from teens with neon-dyed hair to older patrons in wheelchairs.

A group of women visiting from Portland on Saturday said they found the open design of the Teel Pavilion to be uniquely inviting, with enough room to stroll through the halls and read the artworks’ captions without feeling cramped.

“We’re very impressed,” said Andie Miller, 26. “Seeing the way the new museum connects to the old, it feels so open. I feel like I can see the whole space and I’m not missing anything.”

Cathy Bertolini, of Sacramento, said she’s enjoyed watching the museum grow and change since she started visiting it in the 1940s. As a preschool teacher for 25 years, she brought her students to the historic building on many occasions. Just a few months ago, she brought a cousin visiting from Italy to the updated building.

“We were happy we could bring her here because it really is a nice experience,” Bertolini said. “I get to see newer things when I come in now. I used to see the same things a lot.”

The next big step for the Crocker is better integrating it with the constantly developing downtown area, Jones said. She estimates that another 20,000 people will reside within a half-mile of the museum’s front door in the next 10 to 15 years. By then she expects Crocker Park – the grassy area adjacent to the museum’s parking lot – to be a public art space as well.

“The museum has been looked at often as being on the edge of Sacramento as far as development,” she said. “But in terms of what’s happening in this area, we’re at the center point.”

Sammy Caiola: 916-321-1636, @SammyCaiola

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