After a Covid Contraction, Museums Are Expanding Again — Portland Museum of Art

“Are we building the right building?” said James Steward, the director of the Princeton University Art Museum, regarding its new building, designed by David Adjaye. “Are we giving ourselves enough future proofing?”

That “future proofing” has meant trying to build in as much flexibility as possible, Mr. Steward said, so that if the project turns out to have been too heavy on social gathering spaces or discreet education spaces, for example, the proportions can be adjusted.

If there is one thing the pandemic taught the Princeton museum, however, it is that people still want to show up in person. “Our audiences are hungering for an authentic experience, the work of art placed in front of them,” Mr. Steward said.

At the same time, given the feasibility of digital learning, “I think we have to give people a reason to want to come and cross our threshold,” he added, “the sense that coming to a public program in person has value.”

Similarly, the Portland museum, which is adding roughly 60,000 square feet to its existing building of 38,000 square feet, is seeking to be responsive to its visitors, to draw them in with less formal spaces where art is being made on the premises.

There will be spaces where visitors make art, get messy and build objects in a workshop setting, where artists can explore their practice through a residency or public performance. People can also simply relax and hang out, and community organizations can hold town hall forums on a moment’s notice rather than through monthslong planning.

“The concept we’re working on is trying to put creativity on display and making the program more visible, making people the center of the building,” said Mark Bessire, the museum’s director. “Because of Covid and the social justice movement, our community was like, ‘Let’s turn the museum inside out.’”

The Queens Museum in New York City is finally completing a renovation, the first phase of which was completed in 2013. This second phase involves the less sexy aspects of the project — assuring there is full disability access, facade repair and collection storage. “What it will give us is a completed museum,” said Sally Tallant, the president and executive director. “That kind of stuff is very important.”

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