A day of pouring rain didn't dampen spirits at the groundbreaking event for the expansion of the SCAD Museum of Art, intended to make room for the Walter O. Evans Center for African American Art.
Over 100 guests, including donors, community leaders, the media and four generations of the Evans family gathered to celebrate the new building, set to be completed in Fall 2011.
The building will stretch back from the existing SCAD Museum on MLK Jr. Boulevard, west two blocks along Turner Boulevard, in the space once occupied by part of the Central of Georgia railroad depot.
Plans for the building, whose design was led by Christian Sottile, include a dramatic glass tower rising above the entrance, a formal garden courtyard and significant amounts of new exhibition and event space. The glass and steel tower at the center of the building will stand over 80 feet tall, and will be a unique addition to Savannah's skyline.
"I'm in awe of this opportunity and I'm honored by this historic site," says Sottile, who is also a SCAD professor and alumnus, during his remarks.
The location of the new building is significant for several reasons. Besides its history with the railroad and other ties to Savannah's past, several generations of Dr. Evans' family lived in the Frogtown neighborhood, just a few blocks away.
"My wife Linda and I wanted the collection to stay in our hometown," says Evans. "However, selecting SCAD as the recipient was more than a matter of location."
That Evans' collection should have a dedicated space to house it was one of the stipulations of the gift to SCAD. Also stipulated was that a partnership with the local public school system should be created to ensure that youth have access to art and opportunities to learn about it.
"He was denied, but is seeing to it that others are not," says SCAD President Paula Wallace during her remarks.
Evans, who is often recognized as one of the country's foremost collectors by publications like Arts and Antiques, first started buying art in 1979. His collection now includes over 200 paintings, sculptures and other items like letters and first edition books. His donation to SCAD included about 80 pieces.
"Collecting is an insanity," Evans jokes during the ceremony while thanking his wife for "suffering through it" with him.
"Linda and I hope that through this new Center for African American Studies, visitors will recognize the importance of preserving our cultural heritage and of providing a legacy for those who come after us," he said.
Evans also shared a lighthearted anecdote about his introduction to the world of art. While in Philadelphia during his enlistment with the Navy, Evans was going on a date with a woman to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He began researching famous artists in order to impress her with his knowledge.
The relationship didn't last, but his newfound passion for art did.
The Evans Center will include over 60,000 square feet of space to the museum complex, which will include a 250-seat auditorium, as well as new galleries and exhibit space, and classrooms. Construction will take place in two phases.
"This will be our Louvre," said Evans.