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Panczenko: Chazen Museum expansion a fundraising success story

By Brian E. Clark
For WisBusiness.com

When Russell Panczenko, head of the Chazen Museum of Art on the UW-Madison campus, began fundraising efforts for a expansion more than a decade ago, he never expected any state support.

Nor did he get any.

All of the $43 million raised for the 86,000-square-foot addition, which nearly doubled the size of the fine arts facility, came from private donors.

“University money is focused on sciences, things that are perceived as bringing in revenue to the state,” he said.

“Arts clearly are not seen as a priority in that realm. Every penny that went into this building is from private dollars,” he said of the addition, which will open this weekend, with events on both Saturday and Sunday.

Panczenko, however, did get a big break on construction costs.

He and his board initially estimated the addition would cost $47 million, but the bids came in at $40 million, he said.

That was “significantly lower” than anticipated, due to a downturn in the economy that left contractors scrambling for work, he said. The additional $3 million came from add-ons that the museum was able to secure, also at good rates.

“We went out to bid in 2008 just as the economy was tanking,” he said. “That made a big difference.”

Panczenko, who has been at the museum since 1984, is convinced both university and community users will be pleased with the new, three-story addition. It has a limestone and copper facade and is linked to the existing Chazen structure with a bridge.

“The third story is dedicated entirely to the display of the permanent collection,” he said. “The second story has galleries for temporary exhibitions and has two study rooms for works on paper and for three-dimensional objects that for the most part are in storage.”

The ground floor has a new lobby and an auditorium that is equipped to show film from digital to 35-millimeter classics.

“In addition, it has a large temp exhibition space that we’ve never had before,” he said. “This means a lot of the stuff in storage can now come out to be viewed.”

Panczenko said the museum is doubling the size for its permanent collection.

“Up to 75 or 80 percent of everything people will see in the new building, people have never seen before,” he said. “This really is a dramatic ‘bring things out and make them available' expansion.”

Panczenko said the planned expansion made it easier for him to persuade donors who were thinking of giving their collections to the museum.

“They wanted to know what we were going to do with them,” he said. “They wanted them to be accessible to students and the community.”

He credits a “very gracious” $25 million lead gift from Simona and Jerome Chazen, for whom the museum is named, for getting the fund-raising effort off the ground.

“We brought in a consultant who said we need a gift of at least 50 percent or we didn’t have a hope,” he said.

Panczenko said the Chazen donation reassured others who might be willing to give $1,000 or even $100,000 that the expansion was doable.

The director called the facility’s collection “encyclopedic” and described its mission as “two-fold.”

One is serving the teaching needs of the university and providing examples of original art for various courses, and to help students who are interested in museum careers. The other is aimed at enriching surrounding communities.

“On the other hand, we are very much part of the ‘art reach’ arm of the university,” he said. “I’d like to think we are the university’s living room.”

To aid school and community groups, he said the museum has a growing docent group of 105 who are trained by the staff and required to audit art history classes.

Panczenko said he is convinced the both the university, the surrounding community and alumni appreciate the museum.

"I'd like to think we are the university's living room," he said. "There's never been an entry charge here and I hope there never will be."


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