At a Wednesday morning groundbreaking ceremony, McNay Art Museum director Richard Aste called the museum “the jewel of District 10” and said a new landscape plan will make it a treasured space for the entire San Antonio community.
A lead gift of $2 million from the Mays Family Foundation will spearhead Phase One of the museum’s new $6.25 million landscape master plan, which will transform the onetime private goat farm of Marion Koogler McNay into a public park accessible to everyone year-round, Aste said.
The plan includes removal of the fence and dense ligustrum shrub boundary surrounding the museum grounds, which meets one original objective of the late Tom Frost, who, as McNay board chair 15 years ago, presented a landscaping vision to his fellow trustees.
“The objective … was to remove all physical barriers to our world-renowned outdoor and indoor art museum experience, and truly open up the McNay to everyone,” Aste announced, which he said would also honor the heiress founder McNay’s “commitment to beauty and inclusion.”
Another major feature of the new plan originated with Frost, who envisioned acquiring the small triangular plot of land at the corner of Austin Highway and North New Braunfels Avenue.
Then, Aste said, the objective was simply to improve the exposure of the museum to the street, but “today, we realize that objective and … so much more.”
Don Frost, the plan’s funding campaign chair and third-generation Frost family McNay trustee, also praised his father’s foresight and announced that the landscape plan would include “vibrant floras … dozens of native drought-resistant trees, scenic walkways, meditative seating areas, enhanced lighting,” and a vision for a potential Phase Two.
“Someday, we want to activate the entire 23-acre grounds and connect guests to a greater exploration of this museum … both indoors and outdoors,” Frost said. With 90 percent of funds raised for Phase One, Aste said any future plans were still in development. Other major donors for the current project are the Kronkosky Charitable Foundation at $1 million, and $500,000 each from the Semmes Foundation and the Frost Family and Frost Bank.
The project also continues the legacy of George William Mitchell, who originally constructed the 1929 McNay mansion that now houses the museum. G.W. Mitchell Construction, the construction firm Mitchell founded in 1921, will also lead construction on the landscape plan beginning Wednesday, Frost announced.
“But as we break ground,” he said, “this is just a physical attribute of inclusiveness.” Frost praised the leadership of Aste and said, “Rich, we can all say San Antonio is a better community with you and your vision of true inclusiveness.”
As the most visible change in the museum’s landscape, the triangular tract of land – once a breeding house for Pomeranians, then an Exxon gas station – will be named the Mays Family Park.
“I love the word ‘park’ in our new direction,” Aste said after the ceremony, “because parks are not intimidating. Parks are incredibly welcoming and inclusive across our country, and we want the McNay to be known as an arts-based community center.”
The “most monumental” of the museum’s outdoor sculptures, the Alexander Liberman orange-painted steel Ascent of 1970, will move from the inner grounds to the Mays Family Park to become “a beacon of the arts for this community, so that when you drive by, even before you enter, you’ll know what we’re about,” Aste said.
Both Frost and Amy Stieren Smiley, a trustee and chair of the museum’s beautification fund, emphasized the community-inclusive nature of the plan.
“The idea is to bring the campus out to everybody. We didn’t want this place to look like an exclusive club, if you will,” Frost said.
Smiley said, “instead of this feeling like a hidden place people may not know about, it’s opening it up to where everyone can come and enjoy the museum.”
The redesigned grounds are scheduled to open in Spring 2020.