Cummer officials, supporters ‘giddy’ about museum’s makeover

Cummer officials, supporters ‘giddy’ about museum’s makeover
Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens director Hope McMath gives an update on $4.6 million worth of  renovations during a recent gathering of the Riverside Avenue museum

Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens director Hope McMath gives an update on $4.6 million worth of
renovations during a recent gathering of the Riverside Avenue museum

Hope McMath and other officials at the Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens are giddy about the expected completion next month of a $4.6 million makeover they believe will change the complexion of Riverside Avenue.

“We’re creating the synergies that could elevate not just this neighborhood but the entire city,” McMath, the museum’s director, told about two dozen civic leaders during a recent soiree held at the museum. “It’s what can make the city a destination – not just the Cummer.”

Cracked and narrow sidewalks along busy Riverside Avenue will be widened, and passers-by will be tempted to stop for an espresso drink at an outdoor café adjacent to a sculpture garden that will feature four permanent works and several others on loan by Enzo Torcoletti of St. Augustine.

Torcoletti’s exhibition is scheduled to open at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 21, and will mark the completion of a landscape enhancement project that began last September.
Visitors to the Cummer – which once catered almost exclusively to Jacksonville’s elite – will be encouraged to stroll through the renovated Olmsted Garden, which until recently had been closed to the public but has been integrated with the popular Cummer Gardens.

The combined gardens – which were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2010 – nearly double the museum’s waterfront footage. But it’s the outdoor sculpture garden on the museum’s front lawn that will serve as an eye-catching “bridge” between two distinctly different areas, according to McMath.

“We feel like this is the first dot in a big connection between Riverside/Avondale and Downtown,” she said. “We’re very excited about what that connection can be.”
McMath also told her audience, which included City Councilman Jim Love and Riverside Avondale Preservation founder Wayne Wood, that the museum has become more family oriented. She said the number of young people coming to view the 50-year-old museum’s 5,000 permanent pieces of art also is increasing – perhaps encouraged by free admission periods and other special promotions.

“We’re still shaking that stigma” of being stodgy and elitist, McMath said. “But now we want to send this message – and send it loud and clear – that we are for everybody.”
She said the makeover – paid for with money raised through a year-long fundraising campaign – also will allow the museum to hold combined music and art presentations.
“This is all an attempt to turn the Cummer inside out and be a catalyst for the Riverside Avenue corridor,” she said.

Love was quick to point out that the museum expansion is one of several development projects under way in the Riverside area, including renovations at the nearby YMCA and construction of 220 Riverside, a high rise apartment complex that also will be the site of hundreds of special events throughout the year.

Wayne Wood (center), founder of Riverside Avondale Preservation, was among two dozen Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens supporters who recently received an update on the museum’s $4.6 million makeover

Wayne Wood (center), founder of Riverside Avondale Preservation, was among two dozen Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens supporters who recently received an update on the museum’s $4.6 million makeover

“I see things happening,” Love said. “This is going to be a fantastic gateway between Riverside and Downtown.”
Wood, a longtime museum supporter, couldn’t agree more.

“It’s just another jewel in the crown,” he said.

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