North Carolina Museum of Art Park Opens New Paths to Play With Art in Nature


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Amanda Parer, "Intrude," 2014, nylon, LED lights, and air blowers, various dimensions

Photo courtesy of Odile Fredericks

The North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh on Thursday unrolled new vistas and experiences designed to transform the way people of all ages experience art at its newly named Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park.

Museum officials are leading a movement to engage everyone in art outdoors, where they can feel, touch and interact with art installations, and become part of them in nature.

“We’ve been working on this notion of a park for 20 years,” says NCMA Director Larry Wheeler. “It sets a stage for what a museum can be for the 21th century.”

Once the site of the Polk prison, the grounds have evolved from “a place of incarceration to a place of liberation,” says Dan Gottlieb, director of planning, design, and Museum Park. “Our newly expanded park distinguishes the NCMA as a regional cultural destination with beautifully designed spaces and endless possibilities to explore and engage with art in nature. I see it as a special gathering space for what I believe will be a broadly diversified audience.”

Thomas Sayre, Gyre, 1999, © 2009 Thomas H. Sayre photo courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art

If you’ve visited the park with your children, you may already have explored its trails and interactive works of art, such as the enormous Gyre rings (1999, Thomas Sayre), gigantic lounging legs of "Collapse 1" (2000, Ledelle Moe) and "Whisper Bench" (2008, Jim Gallucci), a pair of benches that beckon visitors to whisper messages while sitting at a distance.

Ledelle Moe, "Collapse I" 2009 Ledelle Moe; photo courtesy of the North Carolina Museum of Art

The newly designed grounds allow the eyes to rest on rolling landscapes of wave and parterre gardens, some interlaced with paths and benches that invite social exchanges. Like the "Whisper Benches," Hank Willis Thomas’s "Ernest and Ruth" sculpture — installed in the redesigned area this month — is an artful conversation piece. Shaped as cartoon art bubbles, the work invites people to sit and talk on it.

NCMA curator of horticulture and sustainability Rachel Woods, NCMA curator of horticulture and sustainability and NCMA director of planning, design and the Museum Park Dan Gottlieb, relax in Hank Willis Thomas’ "Ernest and Ruth" sculpture.

Photo courtesy of Odile Fredericks

Also new, The Ellipse is a lawn encircled by a 600-foot elliptical wooden bench and a walkway with tables and chairs under red umbrellas overlooking the park’s upper meadow. People can go there to relax and play, or to see museum programs and art installations, like the current free exhibit — Amanda Parer’s “Intrude,” which takes magic to new heights by featuring giant illuminated bunnies. The NCMA will also host a free park celebration Sunday, Nov. 6, 1 p.m.-dark, for visitors to explore the newly expanded park gardens, lawns and new works of art with an afternoon of outdoor activities for all ages and music.

Photo courtesy Odile Fredericks

The park already draws 150,000 visitors each year, but planners are hoping the new features will lure many more art, nature and recreation enthusiasts.The street front area of the museum now offers a tree-lined bike and pedestrian path, as well as a new campus entrance at District Drive. Bicyclists using Reedy Creek Trail from the pedestrian bridge over the I-440 Beltline can ride the new trail past the restored Vollis Simpson sculpture, "Wind Machine" (to be reinstalled in late October) and the smokestack onto the Blue Ridge Road bike path.

The smokestack, a remnant of the old prison landscape, is the only visible reminder of the land's sobering history, although park designers have used rubble from the old prison boiler house to make the grounds sustainable. Water flows from parking lots (with 500 new parking spaces) through a garden that filters out pollutants using plants, before entering a “dissipater” made of the former prison boiler house’s rubble, then on to streams.

A “Discovery Garden” designed to appeal to people of all ages is also planned for a wooden area adjacent to The Ellipse lawn. That garden will be an interactive place for people of all ages, and two more ideas being considered include a sensory garden and nature play area for children, says Rachel Woods, NCMA curator of horticulture and sustainability.

The new community gathering spaces are meant to create uniquely personal visits, Wheeler says. “Not only do we want our visitors to enjoy creative experiences with art and with each other, but we also hope they re-imagine what a museum can mean to them: Elegant gallery and outdoor art adventures; recreation and imagination; events, exhibitions, and installations; and creative escape.”

 

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