Leaders of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art announced in a message to supporters Tuesday evening that they’re considering moving the museum from its 101-year-old location in Overton Park in Midtown and expanding in another location.
The message didn’t mention another specific location. A museum representative said no decision has been made.
The email message to supporters was attributed to executive director Emily Ballew Neff and board president Deborah Craddock. The museum leaders wrote that expansion or relocation could help the museum grow for the future.
“Reimagining exactly what an art museum should be in Memphis in the 21st century and ensuring that we matter to every Memphian – are exciting challenges that we are eager to face,” Neff and Craddock wrote in the statement.
“As part of that work, the Brooks’ Board of Directors recently passed a resolution that adds the option of relocation, outside Overton Park, to our current list of building options for expansion.
“The Brooks Museum’s ultimate responsibility is to our collection and the 5,000 years of art that it represents; our supportive members and lovers of art everywhere; and the people of Memphis. Visibility and accessibility are important to us, and we also need to think about how we can continue to attract important art collections to the Brooks, by showing that we are a safe, secure, and worthy place to steward those legacies.”
They wrote that if leaders decide to relocate the museum, they would do everything the could to help find a good use for the current museum building.
The museum opened in its current location just over 101 years ago, on May 26, 1916. It has gone through various expansions and renovations. Highlights of its permanent collection include African and pre-Columbian artworks as well as European pieces such as a big, highly detailed painting of the grand canal in Venice by the 18th century Italian artist Canaletto. The museum also has a large collection of works by Memphis-area artists including painter Carroll Cloar.
The museum has also hosted noteworthy special exhibits, including the 2014 display of a large collection of works by surrealist painter Salvador Dali.
The city of Memphis owns the building and partially funds the museum, but a private organization runs the museum.
Neff became the museum’s director in 2015, having worked as a curator for institutions including the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. She said in an interview that year that coming to Memphis so close to the museum’s 100-year anniversary was daunting. “But a propitious time too. In May 2016, we’ll launch the public part of a yearlong celebration, but also initiate the museum’s next chapter, the aspirational part of it, moving forward.”
The museum is one of the top amenities in Overton Park, a big natural space of wooded trails and green meadows that’s also home to the Memphis Zoo and Memphis College of Art.
The park is managed by the Overton Park Conservancy, a nonprofit organization. The conservancy’s executive director, Tina Sullivan, said Neff had told her some time ago that the board would consider the possibility of relocation.
“I think that the Brooks Museum is a tremendous asset for the people of Memphis and their presence will enhance whatever location they’re in,” she said.
The park conservancy will continue to look for ways to partner with the museum no matter where it’s located, and the conservancy would work to find a good use for the building if the museum relocates, she said.