The Denver Art Museum’s new unified campus, reshaped with a $175 million capital improvement project, opens its new Welcome Center doors to the public Oct. 24 with a free day.

It’s a day delayed 17 months by the COVID-19 pandemic business shutdowns, as the museum’s new Martin Building was ready to go in May 2020. It doesn’t replace the building designed by famous architect Gio Ponti, and named in his honor for decades. But it sure got a lot bigger.

Denver Art Museum Director Christoph Heinrich

Christoph Heinrich, Frederick and Jan Mayer Director, Denver Art Museum, speaks during the Martin Building media preview at the Denver Art Museum Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021. The Martin Building reopens Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, after being closed for four years for the renovation. 

“We created 30,000 square feet of additional public space — that’s a whole museum,” said Director Christoph Heinrich at a media-only preview event Wednesday. “The completed campus expands the museum’s ability to serve our community, welcome guests to our city and preserve and present priceless works of art from around the world for generations to come.”

Money for the upgrades, in part, came from Chairman of the Board Lanny Martin and his wife Sharon, ($25 million), an anonymous $25 million donation as an endowment, a $12 million donation for the new Welcome Center and $35.5 million from the Elevate Denver bond.

The building had been closed for four years for the renovation project.

“We’re delighted that nearly 10 years of brainstorming, creative imagination, planning, designing and construction have led us to finally re-opening the full campus to the public this month, the 50th anniversary of the original opening of the Ponti design,” Lanny Martin said. “Sometimes when people think of a renovation, they think of replacing the windows and upgrading the HVAC. We did do that. But this is so much more. … Each of our talented curators has reimagined the space in which their galleries are shown. So this is not just a renovation, this is a re-imagination of how we show the critical art objects that we display to all of you and to all the public.”

Improvements include rooftop space with heated pavers for year-round use, which affords an almost 360-degree view of downtown and the Front Range. It also includes a new entrance for school tours to use for children, as well as the improved and more-interactive Education Center.

Perhaps most spectacularly, improvements include a large event space surrounded by 38-foot high curved glass panels that offer both a stunning view of downtown, but also a view into the space from nearby buildings.

“It’s wonderful to come here and have breakfast with your friends, or lunches, and the evening setting, seeing the city lights come on and seeing activities in here and the transparency,” said Curt Fentress, architect. “Being able to see in the building and seeing the activities is going to be spectacular.”

Curt Fentress

Curtis Fentress of Fentress Architects speaks during the Martin Building media preview at the Denver Art Museum on Wednesday. The Martin Building reopens Oct. 24 after being closed for four years for renovation.

Fentress teamed with Jorge Silvetti and Stephanie Randazzo Dwyer of Machado Silvetti.

“I’m absolutely jazzed by this new facility,” Mayor Michael Hancock said. “This is just a huge benefit and a new asset for all of us in the city of Denver.”

Hancock lauded the public-private partnership that produced the new campus. He thanked the hundreds of donors.

“We owe them, from the city’s point of view, and for all who follow us,” he said. “Future generations owe a tremendous debt of gratitude for your generosity.”

Upgrades also include the new Café Gio and The Ponti restaurant by Chef Jennifer Jasinski, who runs Crafted Concept restaurants Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Stoic & Genuine and Ultreia.

Guests got a taste of the Green Machine Tea Sandwich — ancho peanut butter, curried apple, cucumber, sprouts, kale on sourdough bread.

“We offer approachable cooking, with responsibly sourced local ingredients,” said General Manager Matthew DeGennaro of Culinaire, the Dallas-based company running the restaurants. “It’s vegetable forward, but not vegetarian.”

They still want to deliver the “wow” factor, he said, but in a healthy way.

With seven full floors to explore — the seventh floor was never fully finished in the old Ponti Building — visitors will find some favorite staple pieces. But officials have also incorporated new touches throughout. Those include video, audio, new information cards that include little-known facts and interactive exhibits like the “Create a Textile Together.” Visitors can create a tile with a symbol that represents family, or something important to them, then explain it on the back. It can be hung with the others in the display, or taken home.

Heinrich talked about the increase emphasis on indigenous art of North America.

“It’s an important commitment staff agreed upon,” he said. “Being located on the homeland of the Arapaho the Cheyenne and Ute people, along with many other indigenous nations that call this place home, we acknowledge a deep impact that indigenous people had and continue to make on our institutions.”

Note: The Anschutz Foundation donated to the Denver Art Museum to complete the Martin Building. The Denver Gazette is owned by The Anschutz Corporation through Clarity Media Group.

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