Regents approve construction of $6M, privately funded art museum at UM

The Montana Board of Regents approved construction of a new privately funded $6 million Montana Heritage Pavilion at the University of Montana on Friday.

Montana Museum of Art and Culture director H. Rafael Chacon said placing the museum in a more visible spot will mark a turning point for the institution.

The new pavilion will open in 2023. Chacon said by that time, his department may be able to add jobs on campus.

“While we are not entirely sure what the staffing picture will look like at the time of opening, our hope is to have a robust number of full-time and part-time employees as well as work-study students, in addition to support staff from the College of the Arts and Media,” he said.

It’s an exciting time for the department, the university, art and history academics, students and the art-going public. Timely, too.

“The Montana Museum of Art and Culture will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2020, but it has never had its own dedicated home in its long life,” Chacon said. “Therefore, we have waited a long time for this moment.”

Art and art history will be at the forefront, literally on campus and in the Montana art world.

“The Montana Heritage Pavilion will open a new chapter for both the Montana Museum of Art and Culture and the University of Montana and will fulfill the dreams of many who have waited a long time to see these public collections on permanent view,” said Chacon. “It heralds a resurgence in the cultural life of our university and community.”

The Montana Legislature already approved $6 million dollars in spending authority for the construction of the museum. The Terry and Patt Payne family donated $5 million for the project, which includes transporting a former residence west of Knowles Hall – located along Arthur Avenue – to another campus location.

The former residence currently houses the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West and emeriti offices. It once housed the Native American Studies prior to construction of the Payne Family Native American Center several years ago.

The museum will take its place off Arthur Avenue and provide an easy access point to the Oval.

“The location of the pavilion … will also be a signature destination in Missoula,” Chacon said. “It will place our cultural treasures at a new gateway to the university campus and will be a signal to all our visitors of the importance of art and culture in the life of our community.”

The new pavilion will allow the MMAC’s permanent collection, which holds about 11,000 works of art and artifacts from many cultures and represents more than 2,000 years of human creativity.

“What’s exciting about this particular moment is that, for the first time in close to 125 years, we are on the threshold of sharing that collection on a large scale,” said Chacon.

The $5 million gift from the Terry and Patt Payne Family will enable MMAC to bring the collections into public view and engagement. A portion of the gift forms the lead investment to build a new home to manage and exhibit the collection.

The University of Montana Foundation will administer the remaining $1 million in private donations for the project.

The MMAC, a state museum along with the Montana Historical Society and the Museum of the Rockies, is the only one without a permanent home. Currently, the two small galleries located in the PAR-TV building on campus house a small portion of the art.

Less than 1% of the collection is on display at any given time given the current space limitations.

The university will consult with the Regents, the State Historic Preservation Office and the Missoula Historical Preservation Commission on the move, with details coming later.

Contact Business Reporter Renata Birkenbuel at 406-565-0013 and renatab@missoulacurrent.com.