The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens wants to connect dots

The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens wants to connect dots
Cummer Museum/Riverside Avenue Renderings, 2012. © Richard Skinner & Associates, Architects

Cummer Museum/Riverside Avenue Renderings, 2012. © Richard Skinner & Associates, Architects


Cummer Museum/Riverside Avenue Renderings, 2012. © Richard Skinner & Associates, Architects

The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens wants to connect dots – cultural, civic and environmental dots, that is. According to museum director Hope McMath, The Cummer’s campus is undergoing a $3.5 million restoration and landscape enhancement project that began with the first phase last September in the heretofore non-public Olmsted Garden.

“This project has been on the table for nearly a decade and made us look with fresh eyes at the entire campus from the front door on,” said McMath at a press conference on Dec. 5. “We felt it was past time to put a beacon on the front lawn to show who we are.”

Plans include the restoration of the historic, century-old Olmsted Garden, an outdoor space for the TreeCup Café, and integration of a sculpture garden on The Cummer’s front lawn. The sidewalk along Riverside Avenue will be widened to 10 feet and the parking lots also will be refurbished.

McMath noted, “We are using this project as a demonstration of our sustainability efforts. It’s important that The Cummer is a model for best practices in doing a garden in an environmentally friendly way.” She also stated that their goal is to be more open and accessible by removing the hedges and creating a promenade along Riverside Avenue, and the front lawn sculpture garden will be free and open to the public.

“We want to take a role in connecting the dots along Riverside, starting with Memorial Park, then The Cummer, the new dog park, the Riverside Arts Market and the Brooklyn District,” McMath said. “It’s an extremely important zone for the city, to celebrate its sustainability, beauty and pedestrian-friendly environment, connecting the city, nonprofit and corporate sectors.”

John Donahoo, III, chairman of the board of directors for The Cummer, kicked off the press event by sharing why these renovations are so important. “First, the project is in keeping with our mission to engage and inspire through the arts, gardens and education. Second, it’s historically significant and third, it will have a positive impact on the community.”

Plans are to complete the project in fall of 2013. Work is currently in progress on the Olmsted Garden with construction of a new bulkhead; this phase will be finished for a public opening on Apr. 12, 2013.

Holly Keris, chief curator, said that the Cummer Gardens, including the Olmsted Garden, were listed in the National Register of Historic Places in 2010. “The Olmsted Garden has never been open to the public,” she said. “The addition of this historically accurate garden nearly doubles The Cummer’s current riverfront footage, and provides the Museum with another platform to discuss art, design, history, and environmental conservation, all through the use of our landscape.” Keris plans to give a free lecture on the Olmsted Garden on Apr. 23 at 7 p.m.

The campus renovation phase will begin with reconstruction of the Museum’s parking lots, which were closed in December for this work, slated to be finished by March 2013. Following completion of the parking lots, The Cummer will open up the front lawn to the public, with all work finished by Sept. 2013. Outdoor seating will be added for the TreeCup Café and a sculpture garden will be created in front of the Art Connections Building, featuring traveling exhibits as well as two permanent installations – William Zorach’s Spirit of the Dance and Takashi Soga’s Sea of the Ear Rings.

Bringing art outside may also bring the potential for vandalism, but the Museum has security cameras and all-night lighting in the plan. Although that may not deter a determined graffiti artist, McMath is hopeful that the community will be respectful of the art and keep a watchful eye on it. “We’ve had very little vandalism in all our years here, just a little graffiti tag here and there,” she noted.

In just a little over a year, The Cummer has raised 97% of the construction costs plus an additional $1 million endowment for maintenance from individuals, national foundations, and state fund grants. The Museum is asking the public to provide the remaining 3% – $135,000 – by purchasing $500 brick pavers for the gathering plaza across from the Museum’s entrance. “I am extremely excited about what’s happening here,” said District 14 Councilman Jim Love. “I want to buy the first brick!”

Love also noted that when the project is complete The Cummer Museum of Art & Gardens will rival other massive gardens in the country.

The project team includes Elkins Constructors Inc.; CMS Group LLC; Connelly & Wicker Inc.; Atlantic Engineering Services; Sunscapes Landscape Design Inc.; Francois Goffinet Limited; and Richard Skinner & Associates, Architects.

Also situated on the campus is the Edward W. Lane, Jr. Building (formerly the Woman’s Club of Jacksonville), for which the Museum has plans to incorporate with The Cummer. Those plans are currently paused, according to McMath, as it will have a much higher price tag. She hopes to use the momentum from the Olmsted Garden Restoration project to jumpstart the Lane Building renovation.

For information about the Dedicate a Brick Campaign, contact Director of Development Kenyon Merritt at (904) 899-6025 or visit

By Kate A. Hallock

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