UM opens new Montana Museum of Art and Culture

MISSOULA — The Montana Museum of Art and Culture (MMAC) on the University of Montana campus is currently in its first phase of construction.

Replacing a parking lot on the north side of campus next to the Adams Center, the $15 million building will house the largest public art collection in the state.

Currently, most of the collection is hidden in a vault under the Social Sciences building. Museum director Rafael Chacon said cleaning, cataloging and moving the more than 12,000 works of art would be a colossal undertaking.

“We find objects that are undocumented all the time,” Chacon said. “I can only imagine that as we begin this whole process of moving the entire collection, it will happen much more frequently.”

The university began collecting art 127 years ago for students to study, but the catalog is inconsistent, using paper labels, spreadsheets and modern datasets. Chacon said the vault is full of pieces the public deserves to see.

“As I walk down these aisles and handle these works of art, I am constantly aware that someone is communicating to me through time,” Chacon said. “And that’s a really powerful thing.”

MTN News

The University of Montana is growing with preparatory work underway for the Montana Museum of Art and Culture.

The new museum will have three levels, with the ground floor having open classroom space and public access to the collection. The upper floor will host rotating exhibits from the permanent collection. Additionally, a greenway reaching the Clark Fork River is included in the plans, creating a row of entertainment venues on the north side of campus.

In the current installation, Chacon estimates that 2% of the collection is on display and says the ultimate goal is to make every artwork accessible.

“There’s no point in having an amazing collection if you can’t share it, educate with it if you can’t actually talk to people about it,” Chacon said. “The new facility will actually allow us to do that.”

MMAC art

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The museum is scheduled to officially open in fall 2023, but Chacon said the process of finding qualified help to move the collection has already begun.

The current museum location will be closed in January to make way for the transition. Each item will need to be cleaned, photographed, cataloged and packed before being moved. Chacon added that the task will be a rewarding challenge.

“This is a unique opportunity for the institution,” Chacon said. “It’s also a unique opportunity for me. Working with a team of people, processing that collection, making new discoveries, managing each piece of art – it’s a humbling process.”

MMAC art

James Dobson/MTN News

The new facility was privately funded through donations, and Chacon insisted there would be no admission fee. MMAC is always looking for additional funds to pay for more staff. Chacon said he hopes tourists and community members find a way to make a special connection with the museum.

If you want to be part of the transition to the new museum, visit the MMAC website.

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