Kennedy Museum plans upgrades, improvements to Ridges building

Published: July 14, 2014 Author: Staff reports

As discussions take place within The Ridges Master Planning Committee and The Ridges Advisory Committee about what the future holds for the land and buildings located at The Ridges, members of the Kennedy Museum of Art are moving forward with some upgrades and improvements to their space up on the hill.

Located at The Ridges since 1996, the facility is an accredited museum with collections competitive to those in other metropolitan museums, says Museum Director Ed Pauley.

The Kennedy Museum received $2.7 million for upgrades to its roof, HVAC system and fire alarm system. This work is funded by state capital appropriations allocated in the spring at the recommendation of the Ohio Higher Education Funding Commission. College of Fine Arts Dean Margaret Kennedy-Dygas lobbied to receive funding for the improvements, recognizing the need to protect and preserve the facility.

"The Kennedy Museum was founded in the 1990’s and brings together holdings of national significance," said Kennedy-Dygas. "Our goal is to support the museum’s ability to protect these valuable assets and to be able to borrow materials from other collections in order to provide Ohio University and all of Southeastern Ohio with a stellar educational and aesthetic resource."

"If you’ve never been to a museum, you don’t really know what to expect. And we’re in Southeast Ohio, and for a lot of the people, this may be their first opportunity to go into a museum. It sort of creates a gateway to a level of comfort," said Pauley.

The repairs and upgrades are crucial for the museum to protect their art collections – some of which are valued in the millions of dollars – from humidity and other environmental factors, says Pauley. These changes aren’t the first time the Kennedy Museum has experienced an update. Pauley says the museum’s chairlift was updated in the last six years to improve access for individuals in wheelchairs and comply with ADA accessibility guidelines.

"We had a chairlift that was very unreliable. Our new one inside is much better and provides better access to the museum," said Pauley. 

In addition to the lift, another visible improvement was made in recent years. A tall glass wall with wide doors stretches across the main corridor of the museum, acting as an airlock to help regulate the interior temperature. These improvements were made thanks to an anonymous donation. A café adjoining the museum was added in 2011 as the result of a donation from longtime museum supporters Wilfred and Ann Lee Konneker. Having a space to buy refreshments or get together with colleagues or friends is almost expected of a museum space anymore, Pauley explains. 

The museum fulfills a number of different needs for a variety of people: it plays host to school groups, offering the first museum experience for area youngsters; it offers Ohio University students the chance to work in a museum through work study, PACE or as intern (in fact, 90 percent of museum tours are guided by OHIO students, says Pauley); and it gives College of Fine Arts faculty as a space to enhance their classroom experience. This past academic year was the first in which a museum studies certificate was offered, taught by Pauley and Curator of Education Sally Delgado. Eighteen students have already signed up for the program next year. 

"We’re really redefining the museum here. We’re always going to be first and foremost an art museum, but we’re also a teaching museum," said Pauley. As the museum evolves, Pauley says he would like to see an expansion in the types of exhibits offered to include other disciplines. 

The museum’s location at The Ridges presents some challenges because it is geographically separated from OHIO’s main campus by the Hocking River, however Pauley says there are benefits to being housed in the old administration building of the former Athens Lunatic Asylum. 

"A lot of people within the community, whether they are part of Ohio University or not, are aware of The Ridges. In fact, a lot of them had relatives who worked here, and in some cases, were patients here. So they have this emotional relationship with The Ridges." 

That connection with The Ridges is something members of The Ridges Master Plan committee are considering as they move forward in planning uses for the space and land which support the University’s academic mission. Pauley says he feels the Master Plan committee is interested in how the Kennedy Museum fits into future plans and he has expressed his hopes for future uses of the building.

While the work to create The Ridges Master Plan 2014 Update document is underway, more visible work will begin at the Kennedy Museum once the contracts for the roof work, HVAC and fire alarm upgrades have been awarded. Pauley says the work will take about a year.