Visual Arts

Phoenix's Heard Museum to Remodel with $1.25 Million Piper Trust Grant

The Heard Museum in central Phoenix announced on June 22 that it received a $1.25 million grant from the Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust. The grant money will be used to combine two existing galleries into a single larger space that will accommodate bigger exhibitions and allow for greater integration of technology.

It’s one of 10 arts and culture grants awarded by the trust during its October of 2014 to March of 2015 funding cycle. The Heard Museum received more than half the total $2,201,000 awarded in the arts and culture sector during this cycle. This arts and culture funding was part of the total $7.6 million awarded by the trust during this time. Only the Heard Museum and the Franciscan Renewal Center, which received a $2 million grant, were awarded more than $1 million of this total.

The Virginia G. Piper Charitable Trust, which bears the name of the Paradise Valley philanthropist who founded it in 1995, supports organizations that "enrich health, well-being, and opportunity" for people living in Maricopa County through grants and leadership support to non-profits working in several sectors which also include children, education, health care and medical research, older adults, and religious organizations.

The Heard Museum will use its grant funding to create a single “grand gallery” comprising the current footprint of the Lincoln and Ullman galleries, according to John Bulla, the interim director and CEO for the museum who previously headed museum operations.

Located on the main floor in the eastern section of the museum, the Lincoln Gallery currently houses a temporary exhibition called “Super Heroes: Art, Action, Adventure!” and the Ullman Learning Center is currently home to “We Are! Arizona’s First People.”

The latter includes displays highlighting all 22 of the Arizona’s federally-recognized tribal communities as well as a mural created in 2000 by local artist Steve Yazzie, who co-founded with Angela Ellsworth of The Museum of Walking. Yazzie's mural wraps the top portion of three adjoining walls. Titled Fear of a Red Planet: Relocation and Removal, the oil and acrylic on canvas piece took six months to complete and was inspired by stories of the Navajo and Yaqui Colorado River people during the boarding school period.

Planned renovations include shifting a significant portion of “We Are! Arizona’s First People” to digital format, Bulla says. “The Yazzie mural we’ll save,” he adds. “I believe we can pull it off the wall; our conservators will figure out how to get it done.” It’s unclear at this point where the mural will go.

Bulla says the larger gallery space is needed to accommodate “big name” touring exhibitions, which usually require at least 4,000 to 5,000 square feet but often as much as 7,000 to 8,000 square feet. "Next door they have 8,000 to 10,000 feet and they need that space," he says of galleries at the nearby Phoenix Art Museum.

Currently the Heard's largest space for changing exhibitions (both touring and those created in-house) is the two-story Jacobson Gallery in the southwest portion of the museum. 

Combining the Lincoln Gallery and Ullman Learning Center will create a 6,500-square-foot exhibition space. Bulla says they’ll be able to divide the space as needed using a “collapsible wall,” and notes that renovations will also include upgraded lighting. Curator Janet Cantley and creative director Caesar Chavez will lead the way for “the style, look, and feel” of the new exhibition space.

The museum also plans to install fiber optics to enhance overall connectivity, and position the museum to make use of future technologies. They’ll also be adding a component already used by several area museums, including Phoenix Art Museum and the Musical Instrument Museum. “We have plans,” says Bulla, “for some sort of tour assistance such as digital or audio guides.”

Bulla expects the Lincoln Gallery and Ullman Learning Center to close for renovations starting in May of 2016, and says the museum hopes to complete the new gallery space by the end of 2016. The name “grand gallery” is just a placeholder, according to Bulla, who says the name of the new gallery has yet to be determined.

The new, larger gallery will make several things possible, Bulla says. These include bringing in “several international components” including European works of art. It’s important, he says, because exploring European and indigenous cultures “puts everything into context.”

The last exhibition in the Lincoln Gallery will be “Duets,” which runs February 6 to April 17, 2016. It will include individual works by participating artists, in addition to works created by these artists working in teams of two on-site during a three month period before the exhibition opens. Each pair will include one emerging and one established artist, who work in media including photography, pottery, painting, fashion design, and textiles.

Museum visitors won’t have as much indoor space to explore while the two galleries are closed, but they will be able to enjoy traditional outdoor offerings such as the Spanish Market and Holiday Market. The museum is planning an outdoor exhibition for the fall of 2016, which will likely open in October. “We’re considering bringing in one of Ai Weiwei’s domes,” says Bulla.

It’s a reference to Pull of the Moon, a 2014 collaboration between Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei and Navajo artist Bert Benally, which involves an immersive dome experience of a digital landscape created in a remote part of Coyote Canyon on the Navajo Nation. It originated with the state art agency New Mexico Arts and the Navajo Nation Museum.

This October the museum opens a touring exhibition called “Frida Kahlo: Her Photos,” which includes more than 240 images from the archive of the Blue House in Mexico City where Kahlo lived most of her life. They’re also presenting “Las Favoritas de Frida: Selections from the Heard Museum” featuring clothing, jewelry, figurines, masks, and textiles selected for the show with the Phoenix Fridas group of artists.

By then, the museum should have its new director/CEO, who will replace James Pepper Henry, a member of the Kaw Nation who left that position earlier this year to serve as executive director for the Gilcrease Museum in Tulsa. Bulla says he expects the board of directors to make its decision “by the end of summer.”

Find more information on the Heard Museum website

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Lynn Trimble is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer specializing in arts and culture, including visual and performing arts
Contact: Lynn Trimble