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Not Your Mother’s Museums

Dusty, drafty museums with stodgy, cramped exhibits are a thing of the past.

Modern museums not only incorporate art, history, architecture and landscaping but also take advantage of media like virtual reality and film. Five North American museums put those principles to work in 2018 as they expanded their facilities or began building new ones that are expected to open this year.

Glenstone Museum

Potomac, Maryland

Visitors to the Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Maryland, experience the museum through a seamless blend of art, architecture and landscaping. They park in a grove of trees about a seven-minute walk from the museum so their experience begins the moment they step out of their vehicles.

Once they’ve checked in at the newly constructed arrival hall, they travel along beautifully landscaped trails peppered with outdoor art before arriving at the original museum building, the Gallery, and the latest addition, a 204,000-square-foot building called the Pavilions, which opened to the public in October.

The Gallery opened in 2006 on 100 acres. It was the brainchild of Emily Wei Rales and Mitchell P. Rales and showcases their vast modern and contemporary art collection. The recently completed expansion added 130 acres of streams, woodlands and undulating meadows, as well as a bookstore and two cafes.

The Pavilions looks like a collection of 11 or 12 buildings upon approach because each of its exhibition rooms has a different look and feel. It is only after entering the museum that visitors realize they are walking through one very large building connected by a water court.

“That is a really important part of orienting yourself. The idea is that between each of these rooms, exhibitions, you have a brief return to nature,” said Emily Grebenstein, communications manager for the Glenstone Museum.

Everything exhibited at Glenstone comes from its own collections. Guides are stationed throughout the museum to help enlighten guests about the various artworks.

“It is a nice, intimate way to experience the art and helps to ensure that each visitor’s experience here is different,” Grebenstein said. Groups are welcome, but the museum wants them to experience the museum in the same intimate way as its other guests. It doesn’t offer large guided tours.

National Veterans Memorial and Museum

Columbus, Ohio

The late senator and former astronaut John Glenn was the driving force behind the nation’s first National Veterans Memorial and Museum in Columbus, Ohio. He wanted a place where veterans could tell their stories and remember their experiences.

The museum is not a war memorial or a military museum, said Amy Taylor, chief operating officer for the Columbus Downtown Development Corporation, the organization tasked with developing the museum, which opened in October. Instead, it tells the story of 25 individuals who served in different branches of the military, from how they got into the service, through basic training, their service and their homecoming.

The 50,000-square-foot concrete building was constructed on seven acres across the river from the Columbus downtown business district. The building itself is an architectural wonder, with 28 million pounds of concrete interrupted by a glass curtainwall that spirals its way up to a beautiful, grassy rooftop amphitheater. A 2.5-acre Memorial Grove that features American elm trees and a 325-foot-long stone wall with three waterfalls cascading into a reflecting pool is the finishing touch on a museum that was first dreamed up in 2012.

“It is a really reflective place,” said Taylor. “You learn that people are willing to put their lives on the line, why they served and why that has been important since the beginning of our country.”

Even if visitors haven’t served in the military, Taylor said she hopes they will leave the museum inspired to serve their country and communities in other capacities.

The museum offers group tour opportunities.

Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto


The Museum of Contemporary Art Toronto recently relocated to a former aluminum factory in an industrial corridor of Toronto. Along with the new location, the Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art also got a new name that better reflects its mission.

MOCA Toronto now embraces contemporary art from around the world, not just the works of Canadian artists.

“The notion was to then expand our vision and the footprint of our vision by taking this space, and in doing so, we were looking to create a new cultural destination in the city of Toronto and reframe the cultural map of the city to include an area that is a little bit west of the downtown core,” said Rachel Hilton, director of communications and visitor engagement.

The new museum covers five floors of the 10-story building, boosting the museum’s square footage from 10,000 square feet at its previous location to 50,000 square feet.

The building itself is part of the overall visitor experience “because it is such an unusual setting for a museum,” Hilton said.

It was built of concrete slab architecture with large pillars featured prominently on each floor. As the building rises, the pillars get smaller.

“It’s a really interesting building in which to have art,” Hilton said. Most of the art is not hanging on walls but takes up space between the pillars. There are sculptural installations and video exhibitions.

Statue of Liberty Museum

New York

An expanded Statue of Liberty Museum has been in the works since the events of September 11, 2001, when, for security reasons, the National Park Service reduced the number of visitors allowed inside the Statue of Liberty.

Of the 4.5 million people who visit the monument each year, only about 20 percent of them are able to access the statue itself, said Suzanne Mannion, director of public affairs for the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation.

The original museum was built inside the statue’s pedestal in the 1980s when the foundation began restoring the statue for its 1986 centennial. Since the original space was small, the museum didn’t have much room to tell the monument’s story.

The new 26,000-square-foot museum, which broke ground in October 2016 and is scheduled to open in May, will allow everyone who visits the opportunity to experience it.

“The goal of the museum is to celebrate the story of Lady Liberty, and it will invite visitors to explore how the statue has evolved from a national monument to a global icon,” Mannion said. “That will be achieved through the use of artifacts and film, and it will touch on why the French decided to gift the statue to the States in the 1880s.”

It also will detail how the statue was constructed, how it was brought over to the U.S., how Bedloe’s Island was selected as the statue’s home and how Americans participated in one of the country’s first crowd-funding campaigns to raise money for the statue’s pedestal.

The $100 million project also includes islandwide beautification and a secondary security screening facility. The architect wanted to have the new buildings “fade into the landscape of Liberty Island park,” she said.

Groups can book passage on the ferry to Liberty Island, but group tours of the island won’t be offered. Instead, all visitors have the opportunity to take a self-guided audio tour once they arrive on-site.

Academy Museum of Motion Pictures

Los Angeles

For 90 years, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has dreamed of opening a museum dedicated to the art of filmmaking. About 10 years ago, the organization began searching for the perfect Los Angeles location. It settled on a historic Art Deco retail building on Wilshire Boulevard that is part of an area dubbed the Miracle Mile or Museum Row.

In 2018, the Academy restored the facade of the former May Company building, including an iconic gold-tiled cylinder that anchors the corner of the building, to its 1939 brilliance.

The museum is expected to open in late 2019 and will feature everything from screenplays and movie posters to art pieces, costumes and props from some of Hollywood’s most famous movies. The immersive and interactive museum will tell the history of motion pictures through augmented reality, virtual reality and film.

The lower level of the museum will house a 288-seat theater, an exhibit gallery, a restaurant and a retail area. It will have three floors of exhibition space, both permanent and temporary. The former department-store tearoom was converted to special event space with a beautiful view of the Hollywood Hills. The new wing features a 1,000-seat theater that is “the heart of the entire museum, where our art form will be shown in its truest form,” said Rowena Adalid, director of sales for the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. The Academy hopes to host movie premieres and other Hollywood events in the space.

The third floor will house temporary exhibitions. One of its first exhibits will celebrate the work of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.

“It is very important for us because by starting off our first exhibition with him, we convey that this museum will be a global experience and not just about Hollywood,” Adalid said. The museum will offer group guided tours and packages.