Dear Brooks Friends,
As we shared with you last month, the Board of Directors of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art has known for more than two decades that significant parts of our current physical plant are inadequate. The portion of the museum that was added in the mid-1970s is a prefabricated building that is not seismically sound, has proven very difficult to keep climate controlled, and does not provide us with enough storage or exhibition space for our ample and growing permanent collection. Upgrading our current facilities in Overton Park would be both costly and disruptive to the park-going public and our fellow park partners.
Also, any subsequent renovation within the park would likely augur an expansion of our museum facilities to accommodate increasing storage and exhibition space needs; this could lead to an encroachment on the Overton Park Golf Course or other public space areas, which we of course would prefer to avoid.
As the Long Range Planning Committee and the Full Board were assessing these options over the last eighteen months, we became aware of the City of Memphis’ renewed interest in the downtown Memphis Riverfront. The riverfront concept plan that was produced by Studio Gang at the behest of the Mayor’s Riverfront Task Force is a remarkably thoughtful, cogent, and actionable blueprint for reawakening portions of our historic riverfront that have been too dormant for far too long. We encourage all of you to visit online here and review the concept plan if you have not already had an opportunity to do so.
Notable among Studio Gang’s recommendations was the conversion of some structured parking along Front Street to an “iconic cultural asset.” We agree that an active, architecturally significant, and thoughtfully programmed asset of this type could anchor a critical juncture of the riverfront and deeply enhance the experience of all Memphians and its visitors.
The Brooks Museum Board of Directors passed a resolution to seek formal consideration from Mayor Jim Strickland’s administration to be that iconic cultural asset. The Board voted on October 6 and approved a resolution that affirms our interest in being so considered.
Many further discussions with the City of Memphis will be required and we must still have complete and satisfactory answers to myriad questions about a potential new site for the Brooks Museum on the riverfront. Nevertheless, we feel that this is a singular opportunity to be part of a true renaissance along the river, particularly with tremendous developments happening in the Pinch and Medical Districts, around the campus of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and throughout all of downtown.
At the moment, Mayor Strickland’s administration is planning to move forward with an application to the State Building Commission for an expansion of the downtown Tourism Development Zone (TDZ) which would include Mud Island and significant portions of the downtown riverfront. We will do whatever we can to be of assistance in his pursuit of this project, which will transform not only downtown but our entire metropolitan region in remarkable ways.
As you know, a museum is more than a building, and that our first and most important responsibility is to our growing permanent collection of art, representing 5,000 years of human creativity across many continents. While we are grateful to have called Overton Park our home for the last 101 years, we feel that taking this next step is essential to our continued progress as an institution. A new downtown campus offers us opportunities to have more of our collection on display at all times, better protect those portions of our collection that are in storage, increase the quantity and quality of exhibits from our peer museums around the world, and expand our educational and community outreach programming. We are excited about what the future holds, even as our century-old mission remains consistent: to serve the greater Memphis region as a truly world-class art museum.
Your support of Memphis Brooks Museum of Art is more vital than ever and we cannot thank you enough. Certainly, we will rely on your generosity, your candor, and your love of the Brooks in the years ahead more than ever before.
Deborah Craddock, Board President
Emily Ballew Neff, PhD, Executive Director