KSU gets $2 million challenge to build art museum

Growing Kennesaw State University is preparing to expand its profile in the arts.

The school has been given a $2 million pledge to build an art museum that would house its permanent collection numbering nearly 1,000 pieces. Retired carpet industry magnate Bernard A. Zuckerman made the pledge, which hinges on Kennesaw raising at least $1 million in the next 10 months, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned. The museum would be in a new building connected to the school's Dr. Bobbie Bailey & Family Performance Center.

Zuckerman's late wife, Ruth, was a noted Atlanta sculptor, and the new museum will house a collection of some 100 of her pieces donated by her husband after her 1997 death. The school also owns and will show pieces by N.C. Wyeth, Marc Chagall, Norman Rockwell, Howard Finster and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

Essentially the museum will be phase two of the performance center, which included the Don Russell Clayton Gallery and additional exhibition space in the Anna F. Henriquez Atrium when it opened in fall 2007. The second phase would comprise the glass-walled Ruth V. Zuckerman Pavilion (connecting the performance and museum buildings) and two to three additional galleries, one of which would be designated for traveling exhibits.

"It’s going to move our museum program ahead in a very significant way," said KSU College of the Arts dean Joseph Meeks in an exclusive interview with the AJC. "Our collection has been growing for many years, to the point where we don’t have the space to display the work and to honor the artists."

KSU founded its art collection in 1972 with a gift of five prints from metro collectors Fred D. Bentley Sr. and J. Allan Sellars. In 2007, Clayton donated the most comprehensive collection of paintings and drawings by Italian-born nature artist Athos Menaboni, a grouping that has grown to 100 pieces.

"We started very small, and next thing you know it had grown into a larger collection than anyone had imagined," said Meeks, noting that giving mushroomed after the Bailey Performance Center's exhibit spaces opened. "Then you begin to say, ‘Oh my goodness, [what do we do about] storage and conservation, all of the things that go with that?'"

Because of conservation and security concerns, the N.C. Wyeth painting, "Jonathan and David" (circa 1929), for instance, rarely has been shown.

The new museum, expected to command at least 7,500 square feet, would include climate-controlled storage and serve as a center for interdisciplinary research.

The state's third-largest university, KSU now has 600 students in its bachelor of fine arts program, and the visual arts are a growing area of study. The school, which offers an art history minor, is awaiting approval to add an art history major starting in fall 2011.

"The [new] galleries will be there to support our art history program," Meeks said of the museum, while also being open to those attending Bailey Performance Center events and the public at large.

An architect has not been selected, and the current conceptual plan could expand if the school raises more than $1 million in its campaign.

The growth in arts studies means that KSU has already outgrown its seven-year-old Visual Arts Building and is considering classroom expansion, as well.

"It’s a wonderful building and met our needs at that time," Meeks said. "But it’s like roads: By time you get it built, you need a new lane."