The University of Michigan Museum of Art welcomed the general public back into Alumni Memorial Hall Saturday evening after nearly three years.

Said Alsalah/Daily
The official opening of the University of Michigan Art Museum on Saturday, March 28 2009. (SAID ALSALAH / Daily)

UMMA, now sporting a newly added wing and a refurbished interior, had its official 24-hour long grand reopening for the public this weekend. The museum had been closed while it underwent nearly $42 million worth of construction and renovations.

A crowd of around 400 students and community members were waiting outside when James Steward, the director of the Museum of Art, officially opened the doors.

“Let’s declare the art museum open, and let’s go in,” he said, telling the crowd the museum already had 7,000 visitors during its “dynamic opening week.”

More than doubling the size of the original building, the $41.9 million Maxine and Stuart Frankel and the Frankel Family Wing is a 53,000-square-foot expansion of the original facilities.

The new wing, with its glass-oriented design drawn by architect Brad Cloepfil and his company, Allied Works Architecture, is meant to complement the Beaux-Arts style of Alumni Hall, which was erected in 1910 as a memorial for University veterans of 19th-century wars and to add lecture halls, meeting rooms and space for the Alumni Association headquarters.

While helping house its 18,000-piece collection, the museum addition increases the number of galleries, study rooms, state-of-the-art conservation and art storage facilities, a 225-seat auditorium and classrooms and event spaces, along with a new research center, expanded museum store and a Wi-Fi accessible café. The museum also has expanded public programming, offering more events in performing arts, spoken word, film and art making.

“I think we pretty much reinvented ourselves,” Steward said in a phone interview after the opening.

Steward said the 24-hour opening was intended to draw different communities on campus to the museum.

“We’re really happy to see so many people here,” he said. “It seems to be a pretty diverse crowd.”

Many events and attractions were scheduled during the weekend to celebrate the museum’s opening. Multiple University and community choirs, dance troupes and musical groups performed. There were also yoga sessions, fitness consultations, poetry readings, a scavenger hunt for kids and docent-led tours.

Ruth Slavin, director of education at the museum, said she envisions UMMA as a place where staff, faculty, students and the public meet for the arts.

“I see this as a place for everyone,” she said, adding that whether coming for a class, a performance or to see a film, there is something for people of all interests.

Slavin added that the museum expects 200,000 visitors this year.

She said when she joined the museum’s staff 11 years earlier, only roughly 1,100 students visited each year. Now roughly 30,000 students are expected to visit.

Steward echoed Slavin’s comments, saying the museum is once again open as a resource and attraction on campus. UMMA had been operating on a temporary basis from an off-site exhibition space on South University Avenue while the museum was revamped.

“We want to serve the University’s teaching and research mission, but that’s not enough,” he said.

The purpose of the museum, Steward said, is to create “something that will make your lives richer and fuller, to develop critical thinking, and to explore the things that bind us together.”

“Art can be a universal language,” he continued. “I ask people to really take the time to rediscover the museum and ask how art can be part of daily life. Think of the art museum as something to turn to for different reasons to cheer you up, calm you down or challenge yourself.”

Tiffany Purnell, an project coordinator of the Barger Leadership Institute with the Organizational Studies program, was among those there for the opening.

“I’ve never visited the museum before,” she said. “I figured opening night is the best day to do it.”

LSA freshman Anna Weiss attended the grand reopening as well. She said she wanted to see the architecture exhibit and photography displays.

“I wanted to check it out,” she said. “I have an interest in art. I have been craving going to a museum for a long time.”

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