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VOL. 133 | NO. 113 | Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Metal Museum Pondering Possibility of Polishing Up Rust Hall

By Patrick Lantrip

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When Memphis College of Art announced in October it would be closing its doors for good by May 2020 – an announcement that came just months after the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, another longtime mainstay, said it, too, was leaving Overton Park – there was an understandable level of concern for many patrons of the park.

Of MCA’s portfolio, the most notable piece was the nearly 100,000-square-foot Rust Hall located in the heart of Overton Park, which has now drawn the interest of the Metal Museum.

The Metal Museum’s expansion plans go back to 2012 when the museum conducted a survey of its audience to gauge what it was doing well and what it could do better.

A student in the Metal Museum’s MIG Welding I class practices MIG welding in the Metal Museum Smithy. The museum will study the feasibility of moving some operations to Rust Hall in Overton Park. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

“What we found throughout the survey was that people just wanted more,” Metal Museum executive director Carissa Hussong said. “They wanted more gallery space, more housing, a bigger store, and larger metal working facilities.”

There was also a need to provide more opportunities to host exhibitions, she said, as their current facilities are too small.

“The ceilings aren’t very high, the rooms themselves aren’t very big, there isn’t a lot of space for showing larger artwork,” Hussong said. “So we are very limited by what we can do.”

Since then, the Metal Museum has been looking to expand its footprint at its current site by the river, Hussong said.

“We’ve been exploring various options for a number of years now, and when the opportunity to consider Rust Hall came up, that was the first time we’ve even considered moving part of our operations away from this location,” she said. “It’s an amazing experience to be down here on the river interacting with art, and that’s something we want to keep as a part of our overall program, but we also recognize that to move forward and expand we have to look at various options.”

At this point, Hussong said, a possible Rust Hall expansion is simply an opportunity that has presented itself, but one that, at the very least, deserves serious consideration.

She said the while it is still very early in the process, the museum is considering moving its exhibition programs, collections, education, and part of the metal working program for apprentices to Overton Park.

“And then (at the current location), we would really be looking at doing a more traditional artist in residency program, with sculptures on the ground, and hosting special events,” Hussong said. “We would continue to do things like that to provide opportunities for the public to come and enjoy the location while interacting with the artists and artwork.”

However, if the Rust Hall probe deems those plans to be unfeasible, they could always return to their original campus expansion plans, which call for roughly 50,000 square feet of more space.

“We would be looking at adding two buildings to the campus,” she said. “One that would house the exhibitions, offices and multi-purpose space and then we would add much larger metal working facilities where the current ones are – expanding the foundry, the blacksmith shop, the small metals area and incorporating classrooms and education space into that facility as well.”

In the meantime, the study of Rust Hall is examining whether or not the move is even possible, what it would cost if it is, and if the amount of space is even adequate for their needs.

“That will help us determine whether or not this is really a feasible option for us,” Hussong said.

Moving forward, she said that pinning down a specific timeline is difficult at this point because they don’t yet know what the study yield, however it likely largely be driven by MCA and their plans to teach our their current students.

“For us, we will have the fit test study completed by the end of June,” Hussong said. “At that point the board will need to take a little time to review it and make a decision. Then I would assume within a few weeks we would know whether or not we are moving forward.”

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