|The new Walker Art Center|
April 17, 2005
Minneapolis, Minn. — The familiar glass and brick of the Walker Art Center are still there where they've always been, across from Loring Park and the Sculpture Garden where Hennepin and Lyndale Avenues converge. It's just that now the familiar is barely noticeable alongside its jaunty new sibling.
At its coming-out party, the new arrival was resplendent -- its aluminium coating gleaming under a bright sun, its odd angles protruding, its full-length windows jutting, its balcony beckoning.
Visitors who had been without the Walker for more than a year could wend through the replenished galleries they'd been missing, only to emerge into bright new spaces revealing vistas of a busy streetscape and the Minneapolis skyline beyond. A couple of visitors named Natalie and Steve were among the impressed.
"I like all the negative spaces, the openness, and that you can look out all the way across to the suburbs. It's all cool. I actually like the building better than what's in the building," Natalie said.
"Now you're incorporating the outside," Steve added. "Before when you were in the gallery, you were in the gallery. Now, even when you're in the gallery, you're out here. So, this is great."
Dale Hartman says he nearly had to shield his eyes from the bright sunlight streaming through windows of the addition onto its white walls. Hartman leaned on his cane as he explained that he was a frequent visitor to the pre-expansion Walker, since he lived just a few blocks away.
"I like the steps in the newer part because they're a little wider and not quite as high. They're a little easier to navigate," said Hartman.
Building the new Walker took money as well as time. The expansion itself cost $70 million. Add the cost of the adjacent parking ramp and other nearby improvments, and the cost of the project nearly doubles. But there was nary a naysayer on opening day.
Even Hartman, who confesses he's no art connoisseur, says the project was worth the expense, in part because the Walker is such a popular tourist attraction.
"This isn't exactly my type of thing, some of this architecture. But it attracts the young people and that's what they're after. They're not after the 78-year-olds," Hartman laughed.
Out on the terrace overlooking Hennepin, a visitor named Lisa adds that a new and improved Walker has great value for residents, as well as tourists.
"Because there are so many artists around here. And I think just having this around in our area is important for people respecting the arts in general, too," said Lisa.
It's difficult to measure -- or even put into words -- the value of an art museum. But as other visitors shouldered their way around him in one of the hallways, one man named Sebastian said the very presence of so many people at the Walker demonstrated the lure of art and the public's appetite for it.
Sebastian says part of the appeal is that quality art prompts people to take a fresh look at the things around them, and maybe even think of the world differently.
"It offers people a chance to think about things they can do in the world that are different from just the everyday problems, and things that cause problems," he said.
Sebastian was touring the new Walker with Eva, who says she is preparing to move from Minnesota to Tennessee. Seeing the expanded art center with its new theater reminded Eva of how important the Twin Cities' cultural institutions are to her. And it seemed to make her a little wistful about her impending departure.
"How can I leave this place that's so rich and so full of culture? There's things to do all the time, you can see anybody perform here. Everybody performs here and I'm going to really miss that," she said.
The expanded Walker Art Center is part of an arts building boom underway in Minneapolis. The Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and Children's Theatre Company all have new buildings planned or under construction.