Pomona Plans New, Expanded Art Museum

The Arts at Pomona College are undergoing big changes this year. Following on the heels of the construction of the Studio Art Hall, which opened in October 2014, Pomona has started working on the construction plans for a new art museum, to be built right across the street from the current museum.

The site of the museum will be at the intersection Bonita and College Avenue, where the Cottages, which are student residence halls, currently stand.

The college sent out a request proposal in April 2014 to 15 different architectural firms, of which the top four were selected to visit campus later that summer. Boston firm Machado and Silvetti was eventually selected to design the new building by a committee of trustees and executive staff, including President David Oxtoby, Museum Director Kathleen Howe and art history professor George Gorse.

“Part of the decision-making process for choosing those architects is that they have the reputation of being very respectful of the fabric that they are inserting their building into,” Howe said. “So they’ve been looking at the Pomona campus, like what are the characteristics of the Pomona campus that you want to import or have part of a new facility.”

Gorse shared details of the building in its current stage.

“It will have a U-shaped courtyard that’s facing College Avenue, that will make receptions very public along College Avenue, but in a sunken courtyard, maybe six by eight feet, so that the U-shape museum embraces it," Gorse said. "That will be the common space, the reception space. All the exhibition spaces will be on Bonita Avenue. That will be a main entrance to the museum. And there will be this glass wing—a very modernist design—that’s going to be a connecting space."

The new building will address the shortcomings of the current museum, which lacks space for classes to utilize the artwork on exhibition and indoor space for events like the weekly Art After Hours event. The current museum also falls short of necessities to house traveling exhibitions, such as temperature/humidity controls, a loading dock and an active fire suppression system.

“One of my colleagues wanted me to take in this Islamic art show last year,” Howe explained. “I would have loved to. We couldn’t even have borrowed it. I talked to the exhibition runner and she said, ‘We can’t lend it to you. The building isn’t up to standard.’”

The current museum will most likely be demolished in the future, to make room for the renovation and expansion of the Thatcher Music Building.

“Building on campus is like a game of dominoes. One thing moves so that something else can move,” Howe said.

However, Ronald Lee Fleming PO '63, president of The Townscape Institute in Cambridge, Mass., proposed a different idea for the space.

“The simplest thing they could do is build a new art museum,” Fleming said. “A more complex thing to do is to build a cultural center, that has a vibrancy about it, that’s not closed after 5:00 or open one night a week, and in order to do that you have to build in more uses.”

Fleming envisions a building akin to the Elizabethan Club at Yale University or the Signet Society at Harvard University. He believes that these buildings facilitate conversation between students and faculty in a way that few spaces on Pomona’s campus do.

“Why not have one that really focuses the cultural energy of the whole community, and why not endow it so it would have lectures like the CMC Athenaeum?” Fleming asked.

Howe said that the committee plans on including more voices in the discussion of the space. There is not yet a clear start-of-construction date or a completion date for the new museum.

“There are a lot of little pieces that have to happen," Howe said. "It’s a ways off. It has to go through architectural and trustee approvals, and before those formal approvals happen, we’ll be showing plans to the entire campus community and getting their reaction, and getting the city’s reaction too. I think it will be a museum, but how quickly it will be a museum is something that we are waiting to find out.”