Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art Has Expansion Plans

Visitors see this mirror signage at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.EXPAND
Visitors see this mirror signage at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art.
Lynn Trimble
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Scottsdale Arts is planning to expand Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, according to Gerd Wuestemann, who joined Scottsdale Arts as CEO and president in March 2018. Scottsdale Arts is a nonprofit started in 1987, which manages Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, Scottsdale Public Art, and an arts education program.

Expansion details have not been finalized, but Wuestemann is already busy laying the groundwork. This year marks the museum’s 20th anniversary, making it the perfect time to launch a capital campaign to help fund the expansion. He’s already working on design ideas with Phoenix architect Will Bruder, the original architect for the museum. Bruder also designed Burton Barr Central Library in downtown Phoenix.

“We have the opportunity to grow vertically, as well as possibly toward the north side of the museum,” Wuestemann says. Turns out, Bruder’s 1998 sketches for the museum included consideration of larger museum capacity. The museum opened in 1999 inside a former movie theater.

The museum specializes in art, design, and architecture. It’s headed by Jennifer McCabe, who succeeded Sara Cochran as director and chief curator in 2018. Hanh Ho recently joined the museum as curator of contemporary art.

Currently SMoCA has several gallery spaces, plus an adjoining outdoor courtyard featuring artwork by James Turrell, James Carpenter Design, and Janel Garza. There’s also a gift shop, located next to a small area used for educational programming.

Recently, the museum opened an exhibition called “Now Playing: Video 1999-2009.” It’s a nod to the museum’s movie theater roots, and the growing importance of technology in contemporary art.

Museum supporters got their first look on Friday, February 15, during a VIP reception that included Scottsdale Mayor Jim Lane presenting a formal proclamation recognizing the museum’s first two decades.

Wuestemann also spoke during that morning’s reception, sharing the news that Scottsdale Arts will be undertaking a capital campaign during the 20th anniversary year to raise money for a SMoCA expansion.

Entrance to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.EXPAND
Entrance to Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
Lynn Trimble

Expansion discussions are well-timed, given the larger context of downtown Scottsdale arts and culture.

The city of Scottsdale recently released a list of 67 unfunded capital improvement projects. That list includes several items directly related to Civic Center Mall, the urban park in Old Town Scottsdale that’s home to both SMoCA and Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

A series of open houses are already underway, which city officials will use to present various needs and invite public feedback on which ones to prioritize moving forward. Two of five meetings have already taken place. A third happens from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, February 27, at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts. The gatherings are free and open to the public.

Depending on community feedback and city priorities, Scottsdale could decide seek funding through a bond election in November 2019.

The first item on that list of 67 needs involves both the museum and the performing arts center. It calls for replacing aging infrastructure and improving public and event spaces on Civic Center Plaza.

It’s something the city has been exploring for several years, through a tourism strategic plan, public spaces master plan, city general plan, character plan for Old Town, and community outreach conducted since 2015.

Last year, Wuestemann commissioned Connecticut-based Akustics to conduct a visioning study addressing possible improvements to Scottsdale Arts creative spaces. Their report recommended both new and improved performance spaces within the center, plus a new amphitheater and gateway that would position Civic Center Mall as a significant entertainment space. They’ve even explored making Scottsdale Stadium more conducive to outdoor concerts.

How it all comes together will depend in part on community feedback and funding sources. For now, Wuestemann is continuing to explore creative ways to expand and improve Scottsdale Arts offerings in both visual and performing arts. And he’s convinced this is a great year to launch a redesign for SMoCA. “It is very early in our efforts towards SMoCA expansion, but we wanted to kick off a campaign during our celebratory year.”

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