By Nora Heston Tarte
Business Journal Writer
STOCKTON — The Haggin Museum is enhancing its visitor experience with a $2.5 million refurbishment — the largest, single investment the Haggin has made to its building and art collection in its 86 years of operation.}
The refurbishment will address the flow of the museum — best described as half regional Stockton history and half collections of 19th and 20th century art — and update the look of its core art galleries. It will also add unique materials to establish a more in-depth learning experience for guests while cosmetic changes will create a bright, inviting setting for the experience.
“We have had four additions to the museum since 1931,” said Susan Obert, director of development at the Haggin Museum. “We still really believe this is one of the most dynamic changes that has ever happened to the museum.”
The ultimate goal of the refurbishment is to craft a more-connected, comprehensive learning experience, one that narrates the historical journey of the artwork more seamlessly and moves the museum beyond its old-school definition of a box that displays things for people to look at.
Tod Ruhstaller, the Haggin’s CEO and curator of history, is excited for the community to experience the work being done.
“I think they are going to see the collections in a new light. It’s going to be an experience where you have a new, engaging, interpretive dimension to the works on display,” he said.
According to Obert, the changes fall in line with an industry-wide trend for museums to enhance connectivity, help visitors relate to the artwork and experience art in a new way.
Electronic kiosks across the main galleries will offer touch screens that create additional learning opportunities and provide a tactile interpretation in a setting where touch is typically prohibited.
“I do think it’s a reflection of just how much information is available in our world, so people are finding different ways to connect to things,” Obert said.
Within the walls of the Haggin, curators have always aimed to connect the worlds of history and art, and this refurbishment is just one more step in realizing that goal, making the connections clearer, delivering stories that tie the artists and their works to their historical roots. One way this is achieved through the refurbishment is to add Haggin family history to the art galleries — such as the Haggin family’s move to California during the Gold Rush, and building the first home on Nob Hill in San Francisco — giving viewers perspective on how art and history dovetail together.
“There’s a bigger context for all of our art,” Obert said.
The museum continues to operate its historic galleries, and the art galleries are scheduled to reopen on Oct. 13, with free museum days open to the public on Oct. 14-15.
In addition to the new technology and a reorganization of works, several new pieces will be introduced. These are works that have been off display for decades — many for the full 33 years Ruhstaller has worked at the museum — because they needed conservation.
As part of the $2.5 million budget, the museum had the works conserved to allow for more complete collections, including several new pieces in the J.C. Leyendecker collection, who is best known for illustrating the Saturday Evening Post covers before Norman Rockwell.
The Haggin Museum houses the largest collection of Leyendecker’s works, more than any other museum in the world, and the reorganization will allow for 90 percent of that collection to be displayed when the museum reopens.
“We have all kinds of materials — photographs, letters, [and] sketches relating to Leyendecker,” Ruhstaller said.
Obert called the remodel, “a conscious choice,” — one the museum had been contemplating for a long time. To fund the project, staff tapped into a board designated reserve. “Our board of trustees made the conscious decision to invest in ourselves,” Obert said.
The funds in this account are collected from several sources including endowment, donations, planned gifts and funds leftover from an operating budget surplus.
Gallagher & Associates, an internationally recognized Museum Planning and Design Firm, will complete the remodel. Most of the work is being sourced out of the San Francisco office, with additional support provided by staff in other offices. Completed Gallagher & Associates projects include the Grammy Museum in Mississippi and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum in Simi Valley.
Closure of most of the museum has affected ticket sales, and attendance is down. However, Obert said the drop isn’t as dramatic as anticipated. In addition to leaving the museum’s historical galleries open, the Haggin continues to run summer programming and is leveraging discounted admissions during construction.
“We’ve been happy with our attendance,” Obert said.
And when the museum reopens, Obert said the board is anticipating a spike in admissions, and is hopeful it’ll lead to an opportunity to refurbish the history galleries, as well.
“We think we will grow exponentially from this process,” she said.