Transforming Austin

Blanton's new $20 million grant may help transform downtown Austin

Blanton's new $20 million grant may help transform downtown Austin

Blanton Museum Ellsworth Kelly's Austin
This plaza will be transformed thanks to a $20 million Moody Foundation grant. Photo by Katie Friel

The Blanton Museum of Art is poised to undergo some beautiful changes. During the museum's annual gala on February 9, the Moody Foundation announced it is donating $20 million to the museum — the largest gift ever awarded to a member of Austin's fine arts community. 

The multimillion-dollar donation is earmarked to transform the Blanton's exterior spaces, ultimately connecting the University of Texas at Austin campus to the Texas Capitol Complex. Snøhetta, a Norway-based architecture firm, is leading the project.

Though the plans won't be released until this summer, the Blanton did tease a few of the changes in a news release. The design will reshape the plaza between the museum's two buildings, and the area surrounding Ellsworth Kelly's Austin. The "reconfiguration will enable the museum to use more versatile space for a variety of lively public programming," the museum says, including its annual Blanton Block Party.

"Blanton collections inspire thousands of scholars, students, and art lovers from around the world to visit our city and university each year," said UT president Gregory L. Fenves during the gala. "With a beautifully reimagined exterior, the Blanton will continue to expand its reputation as one of the premier destinations for fine art in Texas." 

Under the leadership of director Simone Wicha, who assumed the position in 2011, UT's art museum has elevated its international profile. The acquisition of what would be Kelly's final work, Austin, proved a pivotal moment for the museum. In 2018, the Blanton was among five other internationally renowned institutions — including New York City's Museum of Modern Art and Madrid's the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía — to receive portions of famed collector Patricia Phelps de Cisneros' collection. 

"As a young visitor growing up in Austin, this museum taught me that art is a vital social force to inspire and unite communities," said Elle Moody, trustee of The Moody Foundation, during the gala. "The Blanton continues to make great strides in bringing world-class art experiences to visitors from Central Texas and beyond, and we are honored to support this exciting next chapter."

In addition to improving Blanton facilities, this new chapter may prove pivotal for downtown Austin as well. In creating this outdoor space on the UT campus, the area would serve as the capstone to the Texas Capitol Complex Master Plan, an ambitious project to create "grand civic spaces." Released in 2016, the plan envisions turning Congress Avenue from the Capitol to Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard into a tree-lined pedestrian plaza, ending at the Blanton.