Brooks Museum eyes expansion, possible relocation

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - The Brooks Museum of Art may be looking to move out of Overton Park.

It's one possibility laid out in a note to members from the museum's executive director. The thought of the 101-year-old museum moving shocked some Memphians.

"It's very surprising," said Tondrick Tate, a lifelong Memphian.

Tate wasn't alone in his opinion, as a handful of Memphians WMC Action News 5 spoke with Wednesday said the announcement from the 101-year-old Brooks Museum of Art came as a shock.

"I like it where it is," said Mike Deaderick," I was sorry to hear it."

The museum director and board president put out a note to supporters Tuesday stating that relocation is an option as the largest and oldest art museum in the state of Tennessee looks to the future.  A spokesperson for the museum said Wednesday the board was prepared to launch a number of capital campaigns over the years, but forces outside of their control derailed them, like the great recession a few years ago.

The museum contains three buildings, one built in 1973 that is not seismically sound. Options for rebuilding and retrofitting range from $30 to $84 million. Given the cost, museum staff will look at a potential move, which could be more economical. The museum would stay in Memphis city limits if it moves. There is no precise timetable, but a decision is expected this fall.

The museum leaders said in their statement Tuesday that any expansion would continue to allow them to attract art collections.

"What would they put in the park in the spot of the museum to replace it?" asked Tate.

If the Brooks packs up shop, Overton Park will have a hole to fill, leaving midtown missing a big tenant for the sake of space.

"I guess if they need it, they're going to have to do something," said Deaderick.

Overton Park Conservancy released the following statement about the museum's potential move:

"We think that the Brooks Museum is a tremendous asset to the people of Memphis, and we will continue partnering with them regardless of where they are located. If they do relocate, the conservancy will be prepared to facilitate a public conversation over what should go in that space."

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland's Office has not released a statement on the art museum's potential move.

Read the full note sent to the art museum's supporters:

Dear friends,
Memphis is a vibrant community of people who make, celebrate, love, and learn from art. And for over 100 years, Memphis Brooks Museum of Art has played a central role in nurturing and developing the cultural life of the city we all call home. Our centennial milestone has afforded us a unique opportunity to look back on our achievements, assess the current status of our operations, and contemplate our future.

The Brooks Museum is the oldest and largest art museum in the state of Tennessee. Every year, we welcome tens of thousands of patrons from across the country and the world to experience the illuminating and affirming power of art. Recent improvements to our museum facilities have allowed us to expand exhibition opportunities and educational programs in a way that reach more people from more parts of our metropolitan area than ever, especially such Brooks Outside projects as the RedBall Project, Intrude, the giant, illuminated bunnies that adorned our plaza, and Tape Art; and the free school tours we offer to all Shelby County Schools.

Our collection, which includes works from many continents and more than five millennia, also continues to grow. We are particularly excited about our commitments over the past few decades to African American artists and artists of the African diaspora. Between 2010 and 2016, 92 percent of the artworks we acquired were by African American artists and we have reinstalled or are in the process of reinstalling our galleries of African Art and the Day Foundation Collection of Antiquities.

Every great city deserves a great art museum – but like all art museums, the Brooks is more than a building.  Reimagining exactly what an art museum should be in Memphis in the 21st century – and ensuring that we matter to every Memphian – are exciting challenges that we are eager to face.
As part of that work, the Brooks' Board of Directors recently passed a resolution that adds the option of relocation, outside Overton Park, to our current list of building options for expansion.  
The Brooks Museum's ultimate responsibility is to our collection and the 5,000 years of art that it represents; our supportive members and lovers of art everywhere; and the people of Memphis. Visibility and accessibility are important to us, and we also need to think about how we can continue to attract important art collections to the Brooks, by showing that we are a safe, secure, and worthy place to steward those legacies.

We will work closely with our partners in Overton Park, the Overton Park Conservancy, Mayor Jim Strickland, and the Memphis City Council as we move forward with our decision-making. If and when we elect to relocate, we will do everything in our power to ensure that our current museum facilities enjoy a productive and positive next use that benefits Overton Park and the entire community.
As we enter our second century of service as the city's museum, we look forward to doing everything we can to be the best possible institution for all Memphians. We are evaluating some interesting possibilities about how best to achieve that goal, and we look forward to keeping you apprised of our progress as we continue this important work.
Should you have any questions, I hope you will let us know.

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