Release Date: September 24, 2010

Art center gets a makeover as part of multi-million dollar project

The Post-Crescent

As visitors to the recently renovated Appleton Art Center approach the building's new Houdini Plaza entrance, they can see a sampling of what's on view inside.

The triangular glass vestibule gives passersby and patrons a glimpse into the world of Appleton Art Center, which on Thursday takes the name the Trout Museum of Art.

When the College Avenue building in downtown Appleton reopened after renovations, the vestibule offered a teaser to "The Houdini Trees" exhibit on display and an August exhibition of select African art. Appleton artists have transformed three locust trees from the art center's property that were removed during construction into works of art, and the commissioned pieces in "The Houdini Trees" exhibit will grace the lobby through November.

The renovations, which started in February and ended in August, serve to bring out the best in the building's potential for aesthetics and function. The vestibule, a mini-gallery, also operates as a climate control buffer.

"The reason for the new addition and the remodel of the existing building was to create an environment that you could control, both in temperature and humidity, for the art collection," said Doug Haas, manager of architectural services at The Boldt Co. in Appleton, the project's lead contractor and its architectural designer. "They could use that entrance both for art work and for a gathering space, but it's large enough so you could separate those outside doors. They're probably 30 feet from the interior doors so you can temper that air before you enter the museum."

The renovations also were a condition to meet before Appleton Art Center could receive from major donors Dr. Monroe E. and Sandra Lemke Trout the gift of the Trout Collection. The expansive collection of American, European, Asian and African art, including works by greats such as Spanish painter Salvador Dali and American painter/engraver James Abbott McNeill Whistler, comes with a $1 million endowment from the Trouts to maintain it.

Phase one of the renovations -- the new vestibule plus upgrades to climate controls, fire protection and security, and other gallery improvements -- is complete.

"We have made some significant investments in (security-related) equipment but also in procedures and personnel," said Appleton Art Center executive director Timothy Riley.

Appleton Art Center directors board vice president Mike Cisler of Neenah said the building that houses the art center was built in 1922 as a furniture store of brick, mortar and concrete.

"The building posed some problems with humidity," Cisler said. "Because it's made with brick and mortar it's porous. The humidity can leak out or come in. So we learned we had to create a vapor barrier around the galleries, basically an envelope around the parts of the building we had to keep the most control over -- the galleries and the storage facility. Particularly art work that is on paper or any kind of fibrous material like canvas, those things absorb moisture quite easily, and that deteriorates the condition of those works. If it gets too dry they can become brittle."

He said the renovations are in line with American Association of Museum (AAM) standards.

"Not only is it good for the (Trout) Collection we're receiving, but it's good for our ability to get other pieces in," Cisler said.

"There is a certification that the American Association of Museums gives. We will probably look into that in the future. They look at your physical building, what your staff is like, what educational programs you offer. It basically puts you in company with other ranked institutions."

Cisler said the beauty of the climate control and security upgrades is that they are, for the most part, designed not to be noticed.

"The point of climate controls is that you don't notice it but those who are familiar with the galleries of the past might notice the fact that it's a lot quieter than it used to be," he said. "When we have people giving talks, and music, it will be much nicer. The ductwork had fans right in the galleries so when the air conditioning would kick on you'd hear those fans right away. You don't hear them anymore."

Jim Teunas, account executive at Johnson Controls, which designed the climate controls for the project, said the art center's old heating, ventilation and air conditioning system was made up of a number of small units that cycled on and off.

"The temperature and humidity went up and down depending on how (the units) were cycling on and off," Teunas said. "This (new) unit will operate 24-7 because we've got to provide the right temperature and humidity levels all the time.

"Ultimately art work requires a controlled environment that is stable. The challenges were that the building is usually minimally occupied but you have to be able to provide a system that can control the building environment when there's a full load of people in there.

"You've got to be able to adjust for that and react pretty quickly."

The art center's long-range fundraising goal is to raise $4.6 million in total over a three-year period, which started in 2009 and continues through 2011. The campaign, now in its public stage, is over halfway there, Riley said, and the funds help cover the renovations.

"Phase two hopefully will happen sometime in the near future and that's to clad the entire building in glass and stone panels," Haas said.

"We're trying to create one element and cover up the four different facades of the existing building. The exterior of the building is in need of repair and this would help. We can insulate the upper floors and create a rain screen to protect the building."