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This artist rendering shows the design for WSU’s planned art museum.
This artist rendering shows the design for WSU’s planned art museum.

WSU plans new art museum, receives $5 million gift

With the announcement of a $5 million donation from the Jordan D. Schnitzer Family Foundation, Washington State University will begin public fundraising efforts to bring a new art museum to the Pullman campus.

“I’m very touched and honored that I was able to help lead the charge for the new museum,” Schnitzer said.

Chris Bruce, director of the WSU Museum of Art, said it’s been almost three years since initial conversations about the project began, but until now it’s been a quiet fundraising effort. WSU officials weren’t sure whether the $15 million project would be feasible, but Bruce said the donation from Schnitzer has made the project a reality.

With Schnitzer’s donation, the university has raised $9 million for the project, Bruce said.

“Good things can happen here,” Bruce said. “Good things can be created.”

The current WSU art museum features one gallery for both permanent and temporary exhibits, and shares a building with fine arts classrooms and an auditorium – too small of a space for a permanent collection that Bruce said is expanding.

The new building, planned for the heart of the campus, was described by Bruce as a “glow box of possibilities.” It will be next to the fine arts building, at the current site of the campus police station. It will feature an exterior glass shell that will display computerized images of the exhibits inside, drawing the viewer in, Bruce said.

The inside will feature exhibition spaces for temporary exhibits and the permanent collection.

Seattle-based Olson Kundig Architects will oversee the project. Founding partner Jim Olson submitted the initial design.

“I think the way they’re bringing light and the surrounding environment into the museum is going to make this a nationally significant regional museum,” Schnitzer said.

Schnitzer and Bruce are longtime friends, and the WSU museum has featured pieces from Schnitzer’s 8,000-piece collection three times. The museum is currently hosting “Made in U.S.A.: Rosenquist/Ruscha,” which features art from the collection. Bruce said several pieces will find a permanent home in the new museum.

Schnitzer lives in Portland, where he is president of Harsch Investment Properties, a real estate company. He has invested in a number of museums around the Northwest, including at the University of Oregon in Eugene, where the museum is named for him.

“(Schnitzer’s) investment sets the foundation for making the longtime dream of a new WSU Museum of Art a reality,” WSU President Elson S. Floyd said by email Tuesday. “It positions us well to raise the rest of what we need to complete the project.”

The donation reflects Schnitzer’s desire to make art accessible to the public, particularly in the Pacific Northwest, Schnitzer said.

“Somehow, there’s still a huge number of people who feel like going to museums is for someone else,” Schnitzer said “It’s elitist. It’s not them. I guess part of my passion is to help break down those walls.”

There’s no better place for that than a university campus, Schnitzer said, particularly given that the museum will be among the largest in the region.

Schnitzer hopes visiting the museum becomes a part of everyday life for students and residents of the Palouse.

“Ultimately while we all need jobs to get the money to put food on our table, we also need to enrich our souls and our hearts,” Schnitzer said. “And it’s the arts that give us that experience.”

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