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The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has broken ground on a new 40,000-square-foot wing designed by Ennead Architects. Museum leaders, architects and city officials gathered on the construction site to usher in the newest chapter of PEM’s venerable 217-year history. Over the last two decades, PEM has distinguished itself as one of the fastest-growing and most progressive art museums in North America. When the new wing opens in 2019, PEM will rank among the nation’s top 20 largest art museums. Concurrent to construction activity, PEM is launching a museum-wide gallery installation initiative aimed at creating entirely new experiences of all of its collections. The expansion project is just one element of the museum’s landmark $650 million Advancement Campaign to support endowment, innovation and sustainability.

Rising three stories and adding a handsome facade to the Essex Street pedestrian way, PEM’s new wing will clarify, unify and enhance the older sections of the museum while providing 15% more gallery space dedicated to the museum’s extensive, world-renowned collection. A glass atrium will shed fresh light and give renewed prominence to East India Marine Hall, the museum’s iconic founding structure and National Historic Landmark. An inviting 5,000-square-foot garden designed by Nelson Byrd Woltz Landscape Architects will draw visitors toward the western end of the museum for contemplation and exploration. Other features include a designated entrance and array of facilities for school groups, as well as new loading dock and object transfer areas.

“Beyond the physical changes you’ll see at PEM in the years ahead, tremendous work is being done behind the scenes to create an entirely new type of museum experience,” says Dan L. Monroe, PEM’s Rose-Marie and Eijk van Otterloo Director and CEO. “We are developing new ideas and strategies designed to bring art to life and life to art through exploration, discovery, inquiry, engagement and exchange. These new approaches to the art museum experience will not only be evident in our changing exhibition program but will also feature in a major project to create entirely new installations of virtually all of PEM’s collections by 2021.”  

PEM’s $16 million gallery installation project will involve PEM’s executive, curatorial, interpretation, education, design and media staff in development of art experiences that change the way art and culture are typically presented and interpreted.

“At PEM we push the envelope and never rest on our laurels. Our expansion project gives us an exciting opportunity to reinvent our museum, creating team-based approaches to inquiry, concepting, interpretation and design,” says Lynda Roscoe Hartigan, PEM’s James B. and Mary Lou Hawkes Deputy Director. “We are re-examining our powerful collection — which spans the entire spectrum of human artistic expression around the world for the last 10,000 years — to create new collection installations that will explore creativity as a gateway to understanding our place in the world.”



In addition to the new 40,000-square-foot wing, PEM is also developing a more than 100,000-square-foot Collection Center that will provide unprecedented capacity for the study, care and conservation of the museum’s collection of more than 1.8 million objects. Research and access to the collection is a key priority for the museum and the Collection Center will allow the museum to enhance stewardship of its rich and storied holdings. This major facility project is being developed by Boston-based firm, Schwartz/Silver Architects and is slated for completion in 2018.



PEM’s Advancement Campaign also helps support several other new programmatic initiatives designed to better serve audiences in New England, the nation, and the world, including:

-a dramatically expanded changing exhibition program

-development of a new operating paradigm designed to move away from the ‘attraction’ model of art museums to a new model that creates more meaningful, transparent, and dynamic relationship between the museum and the people it serves

-a distinctive ‘content’ initiative to create generate and share new kinds of information pertaining to art, culture, and creative expression with PEM audiences worldwide

-a new education initiative for K-12 students designed to develop creative expression and problem-solving, teamwork, and critical thinking

-a new global leadership initiative designed to bring leading minds together to explore the future of art museums and how they can play an increasing role in social and cultural life