The City of Chandler will open its new Chandler Museum in December.
“The exact date is still pending,” says Nate Meyers, the museum's curator of collections. “We’re hoping to open between December 7th and 14th.”
The museum, which is currently under construction, is located on the southwest corner of Frye Road and Chandler Village Drive, near Chandler Fashion Center.
The new museum includes a 10,000-square-foot building, and 13,000 square feet of outdoor space that includes a 10,000-square-foot courtyard.
“The museum is a place where we can tell the stories of Chandler and its people,” Crago says. “We’ll explore Chandler’s history, but also contemporary life, and possibilities for the city’s future.”
It’s situated next to the historic McCullough-Price House, which is undergoing renovations so it can serve as a museum research and archive facility.
The new museum was designed by Scottsdale-based Weddle Gilmore Black Rock Studio, whose previous projects include the Phoenix Zoo, Rio Salado Audubon Center, and Tempe History Museum. The studio also designed the master plan for Hance Park in downtown Phoenix.
Chandler broke ground on the new museum in October 2017.
The new Chandler Museum will include space for three exhibitions inside a 4,500-square-foot exhibit hall, plus space for object storage, educational programs, and community gatherings. One interior wall will showcase well-known athletes from the area. A garden will be planted behind the museum, and a small gift shop will be phased in after the museum opens.
Inside the courtyard, visitors will see a new work of public art by Scottsdale artist Jeff Zischke. Titled Infinite Wave, it’s designed to serve as an art installation, shade structure, and visual connection between the new building and the historic home the courtyard faces.
They're calling the courtyard "the living room" — and giving it a touch of Chandler history with flooring that references ostrich feathers. For years, the city has been home to a popular ostrich festival.
The museum will present temporary exhibitions, rather than permanent ones. They’ll design some in-house, but also bring in small to mid-size traveling shows, rather than the blockbuster shows that larger museums can accommodate.
“We’ll have three levels of exhibits,” says Tiffani Egnor, curator of education for the museum. She refers to them as "tiers."
Tier one exhibits will focus on Chandler history, with themes that have relevance in a larger context. First up will be an exhibition on Japanese internment camps during World War II. There’s a former camp located near Chandler on the Gila River Indian Reservation. That show will be up for about a year.
Tier two shows will have topical themes. “Expect something like a photography exhibition on cotton in Chandler,” Egnor says. Tier three shows will be traveling exhibitions. The museum will officially announce its inaugural exhibits as the opening date gets closer.
The new museum has been a long time coming.
The original Chandler Museum was founded by the Chandler Historical Society in 1972. At first, it was located in a former fire station. The museum moved to the former Chandler Public Library building in 1985, after a mayoral commission recommended the city create a more modern museum.
In 2000, the historical society worked with the city to secure bond funding for a new museum. The first bond failed, but voters approved an $8.5 million bond in 2005, and a second bond for $4.5 million in 2007.
With funding secured, the city hired Jody Crago to serve as museum administrator in 2007. Museum operations shifted from the Chandler Historical Society to the city of Chandler in 2008. And the city began planning to build a new museum, near city hall in downtown Chandler.
But that never happened.
City officials nixed those plans during the 2008 recession, and put the idea of creating a new Chandler Museum on hold. In 2012, the former library that housed the museum was torn down, and the museum moved into the McCullough-Price House, a restored 1938 Pueblo Revival house.
Officials agreed to build a new museum adjacent to the house. But they scaled the construction budget back from $13 million to $6 million, and made significant cuts to the operating budget. “We’re going to do a lot with a much smaller budget,” Crago says.
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In the past, the museum has been free. Odds are, it will stay that way for the first year. But Crago says it’s possible they’ll charge admission at some point. And the Chandler Historical Society will organize fundraisers.
The museum will open with just three full-time staff members, including Crago and two curators. “We plan to hire a curator of exhibits in the future,” he says.
For now, they’re focused on finishing construction.
“We’re excited about finally getting to bring the community together in our new space,” Crago says.