The Gibbes Museum of Art has been thinking about building a new facility for a long time, because the current building, while historically and aesthetically valuable, is not an ideal (it’s not even a very good) space for showcasing the art works of the current century and last.

The completion, in 2006, of a $25 million museum in Savannah (called the Jepson Center for the Arts), designed by acclaimed architect Moshe Safdie (who is superlative in integrating new design into historic settings), only underscored the fact that Charleston is behind the curve.

And now Roanoke, Va., a town of less than 93,000 people is poised to open a new $66 million museum that officials there are calling an American version of Balbao, the famed contemporary art museum designed by starchitect Frank Gehry (who also designed Disney Hall in Los Angeles) in Balboa, Spain.

To make the sting smart even more, museum officials in Roanoke have in mind goals that are similar to those of officials at the Gibbes: economic impact, education, tourism, and outreach.

Here’s the report in the Art Newspaper . . .

The Art Museum of Western Virginia in Roanoke is opening a new $66m building this November in the hopes of turing the former industrial town into a US version of Bilbao. The 81,000 sq. ft building (digital rendering, right) has even been designed by the Los Angeles architect Randall Stout, who worked under Guggenheim Bilbao architect Frank Gehry in the late 1980s and early 90s.

Local officials expect the new museum to boost the city’s economy by attracting businesses and tourism, specifically visitors driving through Roanoke on their way to other cities such as Washington, DC. The museum estimates it will receive over 180,000 visitors a year, an ambitious number for a city with a population of 92,500, but it anticipates that 69% of visitors will come from the surrounding 100-mile area, and it is placing a high priority on educational programmes to draw school groups from 40 nearby counties.

The museum’s permanent collection centres on 19th- and early 20th-century American art, including works by Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer and Childe Hassam, among others. In the last few years, it has increased its contemporary art holdings with acquisitions of work by Jasper Johns, Rosemary Laing and Robert Rauschenberg.

Full story . . .

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