MISSOULA – The Montana Museum of Art and Culture (MMAC) on the University of Montana campus is currently in its first phase of construction.
Replacing a parking lot on the north side of campus next to the Adams Center, the $15 million building will house the largest public art collection in the state.
Currently, most of the collection is tucked away in a vault under the social sciences building. Museum director Rafael Chacon said cleaning, cataloging, and moving the more than 12,000 pieces of art will be a massive undertaking.
“We find objects that are not documented all the time,” Chacon said.”I can only imagine that as we begin this whole process of moving the whole collection that that’s going to happen much more frequently.”
The university began collecting art 127 years ago for students to study, but the catalog is inconsistent, using paper tags, spreadsheets, and modern data sets. Chacon said the vault is full of pieces the public deserves to see.
“When I walk through these aisles and when I handle these works of art, I am constantly aware that someone is communicating to me across time,” Chacon said. “And that’s a really powerful thing.”
The new museum will have three levels, with the ground floor having open classroom space and public access to the collection. The upper floor will host rotating exhibits of the permanent collection. Additionally, a greenway reaching the Clark Fork River is included in the plans, creating a row of entertainment venues on the north side of campus.
In the current facility, Chacon estimated 2% of the collection is on display and says the ultimate goal is to have every piece of art accessible.
“It doesn’t do you any good to have an amazing collection if you can’t share it, educate with it if you can’t in fact converse with people about it,” Chacon said. “The new facility will actually allow us to do that.”
The museum’s grand opening is expected for fall 2023, but Chacon said the process of looking for qualified help moving the collection has already begun.
The current museum location will be closed in January to make room for the transition. Each item will need to be cleaned, photographed, cataloged, and packaged before relocation. Chacon added that the task will be a rewarding challenge.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the institution,” Chacon said. “It’s also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for me. To work with a team of people, process this collection, make new discoveries handle every work of art – that is a humbling process.”
The new facility was privately funded through donations, and Chacon was adamant there will be no admission fees. MMAC is still looking for additional funding to pay for a larger staff. Chacon said he hopes both tourists and community members will find a way to make a special connection with the museum.
If you would like to be a part of the transition to the new museum, visit the MMAC website.