New-look Crocker

A chat with museum director Lial Jones

Crocker Art Museum

216 O St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 808-7000

It’s been 125 years since Margaret Crocker handed over the keys to her private art collection to the city of Sacramento—and Sacramento’s art scene has only flourished since. Over the last century, though, the Crocker Art Museum has outgrown its original digs. This month the museum unveils a massive three-story addition designed by world-renowned architects Gwathmey Siegel & Associates. To get the lowdown on the new space, the grand opening and Sac’s art scene, I chatted with art buff and Crocker director Lial Jones.

You guys have just a few days left. How’s it going with crunch time?

We are working very hard seven days a week to make sure we get as much done as possible.

What were some of the challenges you had to confront in designing the new building?

Well, there are always challenges with any new building. We had space constraints. We wanted to make sure that our original gallery building was the center of this project and was seen as kind of a soul. It was really highlighting the structure that is. While we wanted to create a thoroughly contemporary building that would meet the needs of 21st- and 22nd-century museum goers, we needed to append to a 19th-century building, and we needed to figure out how to create the land to do that.

What will happen in the original building?

The first floor is an education center. We’re building arts studios and will have a full studio-art program for adults and children. We also have an arts-education resource center, a hands-on space for children, library space, student and community exhibition galleries. The second and third floors will be gallery space.

Tell me about the new technology protecting some of the artwork.

There are two major elements that destroy works of art. One is sunlight, ultraviolet light rays, specifically. And the other is temperature and humidity changes. Rapid changes, especially. … We have to have tremendous temperature and humidity controls. We try to keep our temperature and humidity absolutely constant, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The new windows pointing to the exterior frame both park and industrial views. Why?

It’s in part so that we can talk to visitors about the fact that artists are always framing their environment. And artists paint Sacramento as an infinite variety of scenes that can be painted. So an artist is making very conscious choices. Most people don’t think about that unless they’re thinking about what they’re going to show. And these windows allow us to frame some specific views for people, so it becomes very real.

There’s also a window into the art-conservation room.

We have, in a few spaces, tried to intentionally break down some of the barriers between front and back of the house. One of the more interesting aspects of back-of-house activity is art conservation. It’s the place where art and science meet. To see conservators restore a work of art is really a fascinating thing.

As we walk through the different collections, there is a change in room space and color. What does that do for each of the collections?

I think that many of us don’t really think about how we are affected by our physical surroundings, but we are all of the time. And we tried to create a variety of different spaces, different feels, different volumes, different ceiling heights, different colors, different change for different areas. We’ve also tried to size spaces appropriate to collections.

The number 125 shows up over and over as the opening approaches.

2010 is the 125th anniversary of Margaret Crocker’s gift in 1885 to the community. And since this is our birthday year, it seemed like a great thing to celebrate 125. We’ve also added 125,000 square feet of new space within the Gwathmey Siegel building. We’re highlighting in our promised gift show 125 gifts that are coming to the collection in the future.

What would you like to see happen in the Sacramento arts scene?

Well, it’s an interesting arts community. It’s had great history; a lot of very strong artists have worked and do work in this region. I’d like to see it become better known nationally.

What would you think about a monthlong arts celebration in Sacramento?

Well, I would like to see a 12-month arts celebration, every year. But I think it is a formula that has worked well elsewhere. And I think that anything folks individually and collectively can do to promote the arts in this community is smart.

Do you have an idea for a good name we could give it?


What do you see as the museum’s role in the Sacramento art scene?

Well, I think it’s the leader in the Sacramento arts scene. Museums are interesting; we are not here to just work with artists in this region. In fact, what we try to do is work with artists in this region by bringing in work that they might not otherwise see.

The city threw a huge party when Margaret Crocker presented the collection to the people of Sacramento.

Well, we have some huge parties planned, as well. 10/10/10, the grand opening day, will be kind of an arts block party. It will be a variety of activities starting prior to the grand opening and ceremonies at 10 a.m., and going until 10 o’clock at night. So, we’ll have a jampacked day with a variety of different arts organizations throughout the region performing and being part of the celebration.