More Than a Museum
For half a century it had to use borrowed space to stage art exhibitions. Then, in 2013, after five years of planning and construction - The Bristol Art Museum finally got a building to call its own. Along the way it has evolved into an emerging cultural arts center: offering art classes, Shakespeare readings, special programs - and a place for artists near and far to showcase their work.
For more information about the Bristol Art Museum, click here.
Downtown Bristol is about as close to Main Street USA as you’ll ever get. And for two centuries Linden Place has been the centerpiece of grandeur and history in the heart of Hope Street.
But it is the building on a side street adjacent to Linden Place that is beginning to draw Bristolians and out-of-town visitors alike: Three years ago the Bristol Art Museum got its own permanent space from Linden Place and is gradually growing into more than a museum.
Antinucci: ``I think our interest now is not so much exhibits but reaching out to the community.’’
Janice Antinucci grew up in Bristol, returns here every summer, and is an artist herself. And she sits on the museum’s board of directors.
Antinucci: ``This is called the Bristol Art Museum. I wanted to see it become something larger than that. We’re becoming more of an cultural arts center.’’
For 50 years the museum borrowed the ballroom next door to the main Linden Place building to host art exhibits.
Woods: ``It was established as a museum they only really used it from May through October and they had exhibits from spring to fall.’’
Patricia Woods, whose father helped found the museum in 1963, is also on the board. She and her husband came back to Bristol full-time in 2007 after years of living in New York. In 2008 the museum got an opportunity to take over the old barn behind Linden Place that had largely been used for storage and housed the Linden Place staff back in the day. The first phase of renovations began in 2011 and the gallery opened in late 2013.
Woods: ``Our vision at the time was to definitely keep this building, which is really lovely, keep all the architectural features of it, but then at the same time try to make the museum come alive and offer a more contemporary look.’’
John Lusk, who has offices in Bristol and New York, was the project architect and provided us an assortment of before-and-after pictures of the renovation.
Those who saw the before have an appreciation for what the museum has evolved into - a main gallery where rotating exhibits are on display, including one we saw last spring called the `Joy of Art.’
A key to the building’s renovation was getting permission to break through the wall on Wardwell Street and create a main entrance that now has a mahogany door leading leads right into the first-floor gallery.
Upstairs we find Mary Ellen Dwyer teaching a six-week watercolor class in newly-.
On another day a group is reading passages from Shakespeare.
Across the hall, artist Joanne Murrman is renting her own studio to paint and teach art lessons.
Murrman: ``And so I saw the barn when it was just raw space, thought it was a very difficult job to do in 2008 and they did it. And so I was first on the list to get space.’’Murrman moved to Bristol eight years ago - in part because she’s a sailor, but also for the arts community, not only in Bristol but Rhode Island as a whole.
Murrman: ``It’s a wonderful state that is supportive of the arts and I think embraces the arts, more so than where I lived in Massachusetts and I was in the Boston area.’’
She notes that Rhode Island does not tax the sale of art work and she can get studio space for a reasonable price.
Hummel: ``What is it that’s attractive to you when you work there?’’
Murrman: ``I think to an artist, it has to be No. 1 it has to be location. If your studio is close you will use it, you will go and paint because it’s close. I live in Bristol so I can walk here in 10 minutes. I like being downtown, I find it has a nice little energy in terms of the kind of hamlet that it is.’’
The museum holds a periodic Art Al Fresco on the fence outside, giving greater public visibility to various artists’ works.
And the museum has rotating exhibits at the public library across the street, another way to try and increase visibility in the community.
Murrman: ``Moving it into this building, changing this facility and updating it, creating its own authenticity, it made it really its own place. This is the Bristol Art Musuem and now it’s getting to be known that way. It’s on a side street so each year more and more people are being exposed to the fact we’re back here but it was really dead storage. It was dead storage for many, many decades. To change it into a light, white space filled with beautiful objects and a lot of traffic and activity completely animates the place.’’
Hummel: ``I think a lot of times people see an art museum and they think, `Oh, that’s for them.’”
Antinucci: ``Yes that’s why I want the cultural center added on to it. Sometimes the connotation of a museum means it’s a little stand-offish.’’
The museum recently got a grant to bring veterans in for a photo shoot. Photographer Arthur Rainville did seven separate shoots, asking each of the participants to recall his or her best day and worst day in the military and to salute at the end.
The finished montage of each is a powerful collection of history, past and present.
Antinucci: ``The evolution has been pretty much the fact that we have a much larger space - we can offer maybe a wider range of art than we had before, because when we had it in the that room, we had to have one room, put up a lot of partitions to hang. This space is so much better.’’
Hummel: ``When you walk in on an opening night what’s that like for you?’’
Antinucci: ``It’s very exciting, very exciting because the artists of course are here and they are all beyond excited. It’s obviously their opportunity to be able to hear what people say about their work and explain, you have an opportunity to speak with the artists.’’
Woods: ``The way I think of this museum is it’s small, the space is small, 4,000 -square-feet, but it has large ambitions. My vision for the next few years, short- term long-term, is that finally we’re in a position where we can offer art classes, programs. I’m interested, I’m not an artist, I’m more interested in having quality programs that touch, are art-related and touch more in the humanities. Linden Place is the crown jewel, so to speak, of the town of Bristol, it’s right on main street, it’s beautiful, you see it at night it’s great. But we like to think that we’re the invisible gem.’’
A gem that’s gaining visibility with a place to now call its own.
In Bristol Jim Hummel for The Rhode Island Spotlight