Grand addition to display art pieces

The addition to The Butler will be built facing Wick Avenue and showcase large works of art. Photo by Henry Shorr / The Jambar

By Henry Shorr

After delays, construction on The Butler Institute of American Art’s new addition is finally making headway. This addition will not only add much-needed storage space and technical upgrades, but also a grand exhibition space with a large window facing Wick Avenue. 

Louis Zona, executive director of The Butler, is excited to have enough space to house the museum’s massive collection of American art as well as a large wing to exhibit bigger pieces.

“We’re adding an addition to The Butler Institute that will kind of alleviate a problem where, for one, we’re going to be able to show large works of art because of the ceiling height and one area of this addition. But there are also two additional floors. One of which is storage — art storage,” Zona said. “The Butler owns 22,000 artworks, so we need to make sure that they’re properly stored.”

The main focus of the addition will be the two-story gallery space where the museum will display large pieces of art, some of which will be visible from Wick Avenue.

“We’re calling it the Grand Gallery. This is where we’ll be able to show large paintings, large works of art,” Zona said. “It’s going to be a beautiful gallery with a lot of light coming in.”

He is eager for passersby to be able to take in what The Butler has to offer.

“The other side of this particular layer is a narrow gallery with a large window facing Wick Avenue, and that’s where we’ll be able to show large paintings and sculptures. We own a ceramic sculpture that eventually will be shown in this case as well,” he said. “But we also are looking forward to being able to show a painting by Paul Jenkins, which we have, which is an enormous work. It’s beautiful — it’s going to make Wick Avenue glow.”

The addition, which will be four floors, is being built on Wick Avenue — half aboveground and half underground. Zona was frustrated by the delays that kept construction from continuing for so long.

Between weather delays, necessary inspections and land issues, construction has been delayed for longer than Zona ever expected. 

The land issues were the most tedious to overcome. 

“There have been a few delays. One was part of the design of the building would go across state property, and so while it’s Youngstown State University, it is state property,” he said.

University President Jim Tressel spoke as to why it was an easy decision to enter into a land-swap deal with The Butler.

“YSU land is owned by the state of Ohio, and so we cannot give away land. It’s just something we’re not allowed to do, give away the people’s land. And so we needed to come up with a way that we could prove to the state that it was a positive thing for all involved,” Tressel said. “Obviously, we spoke highly of what The Butler’s intentions were and how it would enhance the wonderful museum.”

Tressel sees the construction as a way for students to think more about The Butler as they walk past the hole on campus.

“When there’s construction going on, it kind of brings attention. And you know, as you’re coming across that bridge, so many of our students come across that Wick Avenue parking deck, hopefully, they’ll notice progress,” Tressel said. “I’m just hoping it raises the awareness for our students to take advantage of this great opportunity we have on our campus.”

Tressel is eager for The Butler’s collection to be stored in-house.  

“I think the neat thing for The Butler is [that] it’s really going to enhance their story because they have so many pieces that they rotate in exhibits, and they really run out of storage,” he said.

Nicholas Katz, who sits on the board of trustees for The Butler, sees the expansion as an homage to Zona’s vision.

“One thing that [the expansion] means to me is fulfilling the dream of director Zona to expand the viewing spaces at The Butler and also to secure more space for storage for the works that they have,” Katz said. “He’s been such an important force at The Butler and so powerful in promoting The Butler and increasing its reputation around the world.”

Zona is most hopeful that more students will come to The Butler after the new gallery opens. He spoke of his penchant for studying in the galleries of the museum when he was a student at YSU and wishes more Penguins would do the same. 

“There’s nothing like it in the country,” he said. “It’s a who’s who of American art. I always tell people to walk through the public galleries is like walking through the history of America. I really want our students and faculty to take advantage of it.”

Delays to the project have deferred speculation for when the addition will be finished. The Butler remains open to the public while construction continues.