Hundreds of children and their parents romped around the expansive grounds at the McNay Art Museum on Sunday as the cultural center’s leaders debuted a $6.25 million makeover.

The two-year project eliminated prohibitive fencing and hedges, making way instead for “invisible” fences — a series of see-through vertical posts — and opening up the grounds for a more inclusive look.

“By physically opening up the McNay to our entire community, we are honoring the legacy of our founder,” Richard Aste, the McNay’s director, said in 2019 when the project was announced. “During World War II, when our country needed more beauty and inspiration than ever, Marion Koogler McNay shared her home and world-renowned modern art collection with students and soldiers across San Antonio.”

In addition to new fencing, the McNay planted native and drought-resistant plants and added new walkways, seating areas, and lighting throughout the 25-acre complex. In total, 142 trees and more than 7,500 shrubs were planted. A beautification fund was raised to ensure all plantings are maintained for the next five years.

  • Victoria Luna jumps on an inflatable Twister game during the McNay Free Family Day at the McNay Art Museum on Sunday.
  • Lily Rose Angulo-Tavor adds to a communal painting during the McNay Free Family Day at the McNay Art Museum on Sunday.
  • People participate in an art scavenger hunt during the McNay Free Family Day at the McNay Art Museum on Sunday.
  • Deihpi Suantak, right, plays a match of chess against Grant Kels during the McNay Free Family Day at the McNay Art Museum on Sunday.

The impact of the renovation was immediately felt during the McNay Free Family Day, which made its return for the first time Sunday since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The family day normally happens twice a year and is held with the museum’s banner exhibitions; Sunday’s featured the opening of the exhibition Wayne Thiebaud 100: Paintings, Prints, and Drawings.

Children could now be seen through the transparent fence from Austin Highway as they played on an expansive, 2-acre plot of green space that was added to the McNay’s campus. Some jumped on an inflatable game of Twister while others ran with kites in the shadow of Ascent, a 25-foot by 20-foot painted steel abstract sculpture by Alexander Liberman.

“This moment honors the legacy and spirit of my father and his vision for what this beloved institution could become,” Don Frost, president of Frost Bank and McNay board president, said in a news release. “The support for the first phase of this ongoing project has been strong, and it reflects the commitment of our trustees and major donors to bringing transformational art experiences to our entire community.”

Nick Wagner

Nick Wagner is a photojournalist for the San Antonio Report.