The DIA. The MOMA. The Smithsonian. Nearly every American can recognize these famous art museums — but what about MSU\’s Kresge? As of right now, people who live just five minutes from Kresge Art Museum don’t even know it exists. [kresge1]Students may know it as the place where all the art kids hang out. Residents may recognize the name from art fliers or campus maps, but far too few people know it as a museum worth going to, or even more – a cool place to hang out.
Seated on one of the most scenic parts of the Red Cedar River in the heart of MSU’s campus, Kresge is mid-Michigan’s only accredited art museum. It is home to over 7,000 works of art ranging from ancient to modern, most of which are currently housed in storage areas. But by 2009, all that could change – a $17 million campaign is currently underway to give Kresge an artistic makeover.
“Art is much less important than life, but what a poor life without it.” – Robert Motherwell
Kresge was originally built in 1959. The minimal space available to showcase their incredible collection is hindering the students’ and residents’ ability to bring art into their lives. Although there are galleries in the area, there is nothing like having a substantial art museum to bring vibrancy to a community. “There are literally thousands of objects that are in storage,” said Erica Edick, a junior psychology student who works at the museum. “It’s sad because we just have a ton of art that we can’t show.”
The staff members and concerned residents are excited for a renovation that will ensure that thousands of pieces of art will not sit in darkness for another 50 years. The museum has remained unchanged since the 1960’s which is pretty apparent when looking at it. “Try imagining life on campus without the Wharton Center and how much having a state of the arts performing arts center contributes to MSU,” said Susan Bandes, the Kresge Art Museum director. “The same will be true for a larger art museum that has a presence and an architecturally-interesting setting.” After the renovation, Kresge will have a presence on campus and, therefore, will make art a significant part of the university’s appeal. In its current state, Kresge can be described as the building behind the auditorium. The new architecture will lure people to come explore the museum.
Right now, Kresge puts on impressive exhibitions that draw people from all over Michigan. This school year alone there have been exhibits featuring Luke Swank, Pewabic Pottery, William Kentridge prints and, most currently, 1960’s pop art in the Blast from the Past exhibit. [kresge2]The variety of photography, pottery and paintings is only a small slice of what could soon be on constant showcase. “Having the renovation will allow us to have more permanent showcases as well as having larger special exhibitions,” said Alicia Shuster, a business senior and Kresge employee.
“How a community supports the arts provides insight into how the community views itself. By promoting vibrancy in the arts, we encourage a positive self-image for our community, our company and our employees. We make everyone\’s life better by bringing the arts closer to them.” — James E. Rogers
The Lansing community is quite active, and it is because of them that Kresge is going through this transformation. “The idea to expand the museum has been around for at least 15 years,” said Bandes. “Nothing happened until 1999 when a group of museum supporters decided it was time to do something and began meeting with me and university administrators.” [kresge4]This group of individuals who were concerned with our art museum came to be appropriately known as the Better Art Museum committee (BAM).
The idea for this group came about at a dinner party that David and Ruth Greenbaum had in May of 1999. “After a couple glasses of wine, we started bemoaning the state that the museum was in,” David said.[renders2] “After a while we figured it was enough moaning and thought, ‘Why don’t we do something about this?’” The small group then talked to friends or acquaintances they thought may be interested in the cause and began to meet about every other month to bounce ideas around.
“The thing is, this is a major Big Ten university in a capital city of a major state and the art museum just doesn’t compare to those of other universities or capital cities,” said David. “We, as a community, deserve better.” It has taken time and a change of authority around campus for people to understand the desperate need to revitalize our art museum. Kresge is now seen as a high priority of concern within MSU and the East Lansing community. “Just getting people to realize this need and start taking the steps to improve it really accomplished one goal,” said Greenbaum.
[kresge5] BAM pushed those in authority to listen to what they had to say. From the beginning, The Friends of Kresge have been a strong supporter of the plan and helped provide funding to have Kara Hill, a very creative architect, design the new Kresge. The possibilities are remarkable and would add a lot of kick to the northern part of campus. With walls of windows, new landscaping and art outside, the projected look of Kresge is enough to excite anyone, even if they are unfamiliar with the old Kresge. With its new look and more sensible size, Kresge could turn into a much more prominent spot on campus. “If it’s a new museum which is really attractive and which is in itself a piece of art then this would certainly serve the community and of course the university,\” said Greenbaum.
The expected cost for the expansion, which will change the 10,000 square foot museum into a shocking 42,000, is roughly $17 million. “We are in the middle of fundraising and have raised approximately $4 million so far,” Bandes said. “All of the money is being raised privately.” [kresge6]Some of the major donors include The Friends of Kresge, The Student Book Store, Marvis Richardson, Linda Nelson and the Stoddard family. As long as people continue to show their support, the renovation will hopefully be completed by 2009 for Kresge’s 50th birthday, although there is no specific date set as of yet.
“A university should be a place of light, of liberty, and of learning.” — Benjamin Disraeli
The buzz is heightening as art students see their home getting some much needed attention. The Kresge collection has simply outgrown its current building. “I think everyone is really excited about it,” said Shuster. “The students really need the space. They need the expansion.”
“Right now it kind of just looks like a beat-up building,” said Barret Kaltz, a sophomore studio art major specializing in graphic design. “I’m not really proud to walk there everyday, but I think this should make the place a lot more interesting.”
A museum at a major university such as MSU should embrace all of the art that it possibly can. It surely should be able to display more than 10 percent of its collection. The bigger and better museum will encourage not only students but all of Lansing to take time out of their days to visit the museum, therefore making MSU a more attractive and enlightening university. Museums can easily become stodgy, stale places, but this could give Kresge the cool feel it needs. “Students have been enthusiastic about the idea of expanding the facility, and those who participate in museum events realize the potential for more in a bigger facility,” said Bandes.
These excited students are not limited to MSU students. Kresge has always reached out a hand to K-12 students to help play a role in the art education of the youth in the Lansing area. [renders3]By providing hands-on tours and summer programs, Kresge has been able to help arts stay alive in the community when budget cuts in schools nearly always hit art education first.
Kresge, along with the BAM committee, is taking a stance to enrich our lives through art. The art is already here, but without the ability to learn from and enjoy, it might as well not even exist. By reimagining Kresge, taking pieces out of storage and placing them into an up-to-date setting, the museum can bring MSU out of the artistic dark and into the light of today.
If you are interested in contributing, visit http://www.bamatmsu.org/ for information on how to get involved.

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