The Contemporary Austin is hanging up a new welcome sign at Laguna Gloria.
The beloved 14-acre site, home to Clara Driscoll’s 1916 villa and, now, the sprawling Marcus Sculpture Park, is set to undergo a multiphase face-lift. The first step is to break ground March 21 on a new $6 million guest-friendly entrance complex and improvements to the verges of West 35th Street.
The effort was made possible by a $3 million grant from the Moody Foundation, which recently gave $15 million to the Waller Creek Conservancy to build a performance venue in Waterloo Park and $9.7 million to the Pease Park Conservancy to improve the green space alongside Shoal Creek, considered the city’s oldest park and site for a new Stickwork sculpture off Parkway.
“We want to invest in spaces where the community can experience art in nature,” said Ross Moody, trustee of the Moody Foundation. “We believe the community — and visitors from around the world — will enjoy the new amenities at Laguna Gloria for many generations to come. Our goal is to work with local nonprofits to not only showcase Austin’s natural beauty, but to also expand a visitor’s experience by tastefully incorporating world-class music, sculpture, dance, design, etc.”
The announcement comes at a watershed moment for Austin visual art. This week, the Blanton Museum of Art makes public its $23 million “Austin,” a crown jewel of a building that doubles as a work of art, by modern artist Ellsworth Kelly. Also on the University of Texas campus, the Landmarks public art program recently unveiled “Amistad América,” a 4,000-square-foot abstract mural by José Parlá inside the Rowling Building. For its part, the Contemporary Austin just opened a multipart exhibition by Rodney McMillian, the first winner of the $100,000 Suzanne Deal Booth Art Prize, one of the largest such awards in the country.
Additional funding for the Laguna Gloria makeover came from the Edward and Betty Marcus Foundation, the Meadows Foundation, Austin Community Foundation and the Still Water Foundation, as well as major gifts from the museum’s board of trustees.
Designed by Trahan Architects, the new structures at the entrance will occupy a compact footprint. Incorporating steel and concrete into a minimalist design, the texture, materials and shapes of the structures are planned to complement the existing architecture at the site. The new features include an arrival garden, retail space, outdoor café and extended canopies providing shaded areas for guests.
Anyone who has approached Laguna Gloria on foot knows that West 35th Street presents challenges, especially if cars are parked on the unimproved verges. As part of the city of Austin’s Neighborhood Partering Program, the museum will contribute to new landscaping, pedestrian paths and more formalized parking spaces that will serve Mayfield Park and Preserve as well as Westwood Country Club. It will also install artwork by Jessica Stockholder.
“We’re literally opening up walls along the new entryway,” said Louis Grachos, executive director and director of the Contemporary Austin, “so there will be no mistake that all of Austin is welcome to enjoy the unique encounters with art and nature that can only be found at Laguna Gloria.”