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SLO Museum of Art unveils plans for new $12 million, three-story home

Take a virtual tour inside plans for the new SLO Museum of Art building

The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art plans to build a new $12 million three-story home that would triple exhibition space, add art education classrooms and offer other amenities at its location just west of Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo.
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The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art plans to build a new $12 million three-story home that would triple exhibition space, add art education classrooms and offer other amenities at its location just west of Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo.

The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art has unveiled plans to build a new $12 million three-story home that would triple exhibition space, add art education classrooms and offer a tea room and other amenities at its location just west of Mission Plaza in downtown San Luis Obispo.

Already, it has raised about $1.5 million of a $15 million campaign — with $1 million from the Harold J. Miossi Charitable Trust. The rest is from individuals and family foundations.

“This is so important,” said SLOMA executive director Karen Kile, calling the nonprofit museum “a civic asset providing something that the city can’t provide” — namely, a dedicated space for the visual arts. “We bring wonderful exhibits to San Luis Obispo,” she added.

Jeff Al-Mashat, the museum’s capital campaign director, formally launched the fundraising drive at a kickoff reception Tuesday evening at the museum, where the Miossi Trust grant was announced.

SLOMA hopes to raise $12 million for the construction of the building at 1010 Broad St., designed by San Francisco architecture firm Barcelon & Jang, and $3 million for a cash reserve to cover operating costs.

“I’m hoping that Harold’s initial contribution will inspire other people who want to see the downtown being revitalized” by a renewed emphasis on the arts, said Howard Carroll, trustee of the Harold J. Miossi Charitable Trust.

The museum’s new home will occupy the same 6,724-square-foot footprint as the current building on the corner of Broad and Monterey streets, Kile said, along with a wedge-shaped, approximately 45-degree easement leading from the Monterey Street sidewalk to the southeast corner of the planned sleek, 26,000-square-foot structure overlooking San Luis Obispo Creek. It sits on land leased from the city of San Luis Obispo for $1 a year, she said.

“The location’s absolutely perfect,” Kile said.

The museum hopes to start construction in 2019 and open in 2020.

According to SLOMA, the new energy-efficient, environmentally sensitive building will feature an elevator and state-of-the-art lighting, climate control and security systems.

Art will be displayed in two large galleries — each measuring 80 by 52 square feet, plus three designated exhibition spaces and three streetside galleries, Kile said. That’s compared with one large gallery and two smaller spaces used now.

Instead of one designated classroom, the museum will have four at its disposal, she said.

Also planned is space for workshops, an art library, a museum store and a catering kitchen and tea room where community members can enjoy drinks and snacks.

Changes through the years

Plans for a new building have been in the works for a significant portion of the decadeslong history of the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art, which adopted that name in 2011. (It was named the San Luis Obispo Art Center in 1997.)

Formed in the early 1950s, the San Luis Obispo Art Association purchased the Otto Building at 1010 Broad St. for $28,000 in February 1967 and broke ground a year later on the addition of a main gallery, according to SLOMA’s website.

The Gray Wing, named after museum supporters Stanton and Gladys Gray, was dedicated in September 1968. A classroom named after curator Arne Nybak, the Nybak Wing, was added in 1984.

In 2001, the museum’s board of directors hired Barcelon & Jang, whose past projects include several Bay Area art museums, galleries and educational facilities, to design the new center. The firm’s design won approval from the city in 2008, paving the way for fundraising efforts.

Then the economic recession hit, and the project was put on hold.

“We just said, ‘Sorry … we’re cinching in our belt,’ ” Kile said. (Two $225,000 grants from the James Irvine Foundation Arts Regional Initiative — one awarded in 2008, the other in 2011 — helped keep the museum financially afloat during the recession, she said, funding everything from infrastructure support to web and marketing development.)

The capital campaign for a new museum home didn’t officially kick off until 2013, when the Miossi Trust contributed $1 million in the form of three yearly installments.

According to Carroll, the trustee, the trust’s namesake — San Luis Obispo rancher, tax appraiser and philanthropist Harold Miossi — had a “hidden passion for art” embodied in the form of a private collection.

By opening a new space capable of displaying “larger and better exhibitions,” Carroll hopes the museum will strengthen downtown San Luis Obispo’s arts focus — bringing balance to an area he feels is dominated by nightclubs and bars.

“Instead of attracting students to our lifestyle, (the museum) would attract people (of more age groups) to our art,” Carroll said.

SLO’s cultural corridor

SLOMA isn’t the only local arts organization seeking to grow in a cultural corridor along part of Monterey Street anchored by Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa. The area encompasses the art museum, San Luis Obispo Little Theatre, the San Luis Obispo Children’s Museum and the History Center of San Luis Obispo County.

SLO Little Theatre is considering a new venue just blocks away from 888 Morro St., its home since 1993. The nonprofit theater company, which leases the former San Luis Obispo County Library building from the city, hopes to build the structure on city-owned property at Palm and Nipomo streets now occupied by a surface parking lot; a city parking structure on the site is also in the works.

Patty Thayer, SLO Little Theatre’s communications and development director, said the organization is working with Arroyo Grande architect Bryce Engstrom on designing a new facility that would double the theater size from 97 seats to as many as 250.

Thayer said the theater plans to roll out a public fundraising campaign in the spring. That project could break ground as soon as 2018, she said, with the new space opening its doors in 2020.

According to Kile, the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art hopes to break ground on its new center in 2019. Construction is expected to last 14 months — during which time the museum hopes to lease 2,000 to 4,000 square feet of commercial space elsewhere in San Luis Obispo for exhibition and storage — with doors opening in 2020.

More space will eventually require a larger staff — SLOMA currently has six full-time staff members — and a bigger operating budget, Kile said. The museum now has an annual operating budget of about $600,000, she said, but that figure would likely double.

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