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New art museum set for dazzling debut on Bainbridge Island

Executive director Greg Robinson, museum founder Cynthia Sears and board president Chris Snow stand on the patio next to the rooftop garden at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art.What you’ll see and what you won’t see at the newly opened Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA) are equally impressive.

Architecturally, the building is as stunning as you’d expect, standing on the island’s most prominent street corner at Winslow Way and State Route 305.

Artistically, the museum’s galleries on two floors display the diversity of works that talented regional artists create in various genres.

And environmentally, features incorporated into the museum’s design and structure — whether visible or not — reflect choices made with an eye toward certification as the state’s first LEED Gold museum.

The museum, which is expected to be a major tourism draw for the area, opened June 14 with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the outdoor plaza.

The $15.6 million capital campaign to purchase the site and build the museum has raised more than $15.3 million in donations and pledges, from contributions ranging from $50 to $4 million. That includes a $502,000 Building for the Arts state grant, and a $500,000 matching gift from Debbi and Paul Brainerd to create an endowment for the museum. There are additional naming opportunities for indoor and outdoor spaces available for major donors.

The open staircase in the museum's two-story atrium leads to the Beacon Gallery on the second-floor landing.“It is astonishing to me how generous the community has been, and supportive, especially after we went public” with the fundraising campaign, said Cynthia Sears, the museum’s founder. “We’re being flooded with small donations, and we had some exceptionally generous early donors.”

When visitors ascend the broad, open staircase in the 20,000 square-foot museum’s two-story atrium, they’ll reach the second-floor landing that is the Beacon Gallery named for Sears, who donated numerous works from her private art collection.

That smaller space has an opening display titled Sea’scape created by sculptor Margie McDonald in her studio in the woods near Port Townsend. The array of underwater-themed pieces on the walls and suspended from the high ceiling were fashioned from reclaimed marine junk the artist found on shores.

McDonald is the type of “emerging” artist whose work the museum wants to offer space for, along with more extensive collections of established artists from the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas and the Puget Sound region.

“Our mission is to focus on local artists,” said Greg Robinson, the museum’s executive director and lead curator.

He said Bainbridge Island has an impressive concentration of artists. However, that wasn’t well known throughout the community, which is part of why Sears wanted to establish a museum to collect and display all that local artwork.

“The community really didn’t have a sense of the incredible wealth of art and craft here,” Sears said. “You can’t appreciate and preserve what you don’t know about.”

One of the more well-known local artists with an exhibit for BIMA’s opening is Barbara Helen Berger, a longtime Bainbridge Island resident whose display will include some of her original artwork for children’s books she wrote and illustrated. Berger, whose best-known book is “Grandfather Twilight,” also will have some of her paintings and other works in the first-floor MESA Gallery, which will be a display area for children’s and youth-themed art.

The first floor’s larger Jon and Lillian Lovelace Gallery is where works from the museum’s permanent collection will be displayed. Many of those works have been donated from local private collections.

One such item is a life-size statue of a female figure that local sculptor Phillip Levine created, which had been in the backyard garden at the home of author Barbara Winther and her husband, Grant. The statue needed sprucing up for its move indoors, and Levine himself came down to the museum to clean and polish his creation.

On the second floor is the largest exhibition space, the Rachel Feferman Gallery, which will have a curated exhibition for the museum’s opening featuring works of more than 50 painters, sculptors, artisans and photographers. The gallery will be used for artist retrospectives and special collections on loan to BIMA.

If many of the artists whose work will be showcased at the museum are not well known in art circles or beyond, the exposure for their work will help change that, Sears said.

“I have told our donors that what we guarantee you is in 50 years, (the artists) will be famous,” she says, adding with a smile, “and if not we’ll give you your money back.”

Off one end of the second-floor main gallery is the Sherry Grover Room, which has display cases filled with Sears’ donated collection of art books. This space will also be available for use as a conference room.

The second floor also includes a small outdoor patio and garden.

The museum was designed by Bainbridge architect Matthew Coates and built by PHC Construction.

The distinctive curved glass wall on the building’s west side has three sections of exterior wood louvers that close as needed to control sunlight exposure and heat buildup inside the museum.

That’s the most visible “green” feature, but one of the most important though unseen components in the sustainability design of the museum is a geothermal heating system. It draws water from 14 wells up to 400 feet deep on the property. There are also rooftop solar panels that produce 14 kilowatts of electricity, and the building’s construction used a variety of recycled materials such as denim insulation in the walls.

The museum’s mission also includes community education, which has been offered since the summer of 2011 with classes and programs been held in BIMA’s two classrooms and auditorium in the Avalara building adjacent to the new museum.

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