Polishing a Gem: U.Va. to Renovate and Expand Bayly Building

July 01, 2009
July 2, 2009 — The University of Virginia is moving forward with a $2.5 million renovation of the Thomas H. Bayly Building, home of the U.Va. Art Museum.

The decision to proceed with a renovation of the building – designed in the Beaux Arts style by former architecture dean Edmund S. Campbell – reflects the first phase of the University's commitment to transform and expand the space into a world-class academic museum, said Elizabeth Hutton Turner, vice provost for the arts. "The Bayly is a fine and beautiful gem in need of extensive polishing," she said.

The second phase of the museum's renaissance will include a four-level, 20,000 gross-square-foot addition on the west side of the existing building, currently in the planning stage. The project will support the museum's teaching and exhibit missions by providing expanded exhibit and teaching galleries; improved art storage, art handling and art conservation facilities; additional offices; and other support spaces.

The expansion of the Bayly Building in the heart of the Arts Grounds is a natural extension of its current connections with faculty and students.

Originally funded by a bequest honoring the building's namesake, the Bayly Building opened its doors in 1935. It is the home of the University of Virginia Art Museum and its more than 10,000 objects, including paintings, sculptures and works on paper.

The renovation will take full advantage of the building's commanding presence on Rugby Road, while maintaining its sense of human scale. According to Turner, the Bayly's spaces speak volumes about art in the life of the University and its community.

"The grand vaulted portico, the 20-foot ceiling in the lobby galleries, the succession of arched entrances to grand spaces, the grand stair – they all give the message that art is important and that this is an important place to see art," she said.

"A modern, nationally recognized facility will attract loans and exhibitions and is essential for the museum to maintain its American Association of Museums accreditation."

During the renovation, vital upgrades will be made to the building's lighting, fire alarm, electrical, and climate- and humidity-control systems.

"The University takes seriously its commitment to handling other people's art responsibly, and the renovation will help us maintain better control over our own and others' collections," senior academic facility planner Richard S. Minturn said.

Other improvements, designed to enhance the museum's central mission of academic research and engagement for faculty and students, include the following:
• "open storage" displays so more of the collection becomes visible;
• art storage and study space for improved stewardship of the collection;
• new offices for the curatorial and education departments;
• and preservation and enhancement of historic architectural details with new paint colors.

"When we are finished, our presentation will be second to none," Turner said. "Creating a new kind of engagement with art, developing new art handling spaces to prepare exhibits, improving the galleries, making more of our permanent collection visible and giving people unprecedented access to the collection – that's what this renovation is all about. It will offer a marvelous museum experience."

A former administrator of the museum, Ruth Cross, is also a member of the museum's advisory board and the University's Arts Council. She understands firsthand the importance of volunteer and financial support for the museum, and consequently has been one of its most generous benefactors.

"I was thrilled when the decision was made to renovate the Bayly Building,' she said. "We are keeping its best characteristics and adapting it to newer uses."

At a time when some universities have questioned the value of maintaining their art museums, the University is taking the opposite approach.

"This is our opportunity to rise to the occasion," Turner said. "The Bayly will become a state-of-the-art facility that acts as a portal between the University and the local community and serves as a showcase for our commitment to the arts. That's the promise inherent in the Bayly Building and we intend to make the most of it."

— By Kathleen Valenzi and William Cocke