February 13, 2008

Johnson Receives $500K To Launch Construction

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Thanks to a recently acquired $500,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation, Cornell’s Johnson Museum of Art is one step closer to starting construction on a $20 million addition on its north side.
The Johnson has no windows for the first 50 feet on the north side of the building because, according to Franklin Robinson, director of the Museum, the original architects of the building — including world-renowned architect I.M. Pei, and John Sullivan ’62 — always as­sumed that an addition would be placed there.
“It took 35 years [for us to build the addition], but they were right,” Robinson said.
According to the Johnson’s annual report, the initial plan included an addition that would extend underground to Fall Creek Gorge, but due to financial constraints, the plan was not constructed. Thanks to the generosity of the Kresge foundation, along with several alumni and other foundations, the Johnson has raised $18 million of the $20 million it will need to complete the now redesigned project.
“We got a very, very generous grant from the Kresge Foundation,” Robinson said. “It’s a challenge grant for $500,000.”
According to Robinson, the challenge grant works as a way to bridge any concluding financial concerns.
“The challenge grant is to make sure we get enough to finish the building, which we’re sure we will,” Robinson said.
According to Peter Gould, assistant director of the Johnson, the foundation is “challenging” the museum to raise the remainder of the project. The foundation requires the museum to inform them of the gap remaining in fundraising for the project, and the foundation agrees to provide a portion of the funds, if the Johnson can raise the rest of the gap.
“What Kresge does is they ask you how much your project is going to cost, and … in our case, we said it was roughly a $20 million project,” Gould said. “There was a gap at the time of maybe about $3.5, and we said we could raise maybe $2 million, and they gave us the difference, but they give it to you on the condition that you raise the other part of the gap.”
The Johnson must make up the difference of the gap within a window of time that the Kresge Foundation has laid out, which according to Gould is approximately a year and a half.
“They tend to step in at the end of capital projects when you’ve already raised a good deal of money, and help you get over the final hump,” Gould said.
However, according to Gould, the future of the addition does not rely too heavily upon Kresge’s donation — the Johnson will still press forward with the construction even if the grant were to fall through.
“[The construction] is going to go forward irrespective of the fundraising. The decision has been made to do this, and if we don’t have all the money at that time, we can borrow the difference,” Gould said.
The Johnson will in all likelihood need to take out loans because of the financing arrangements made with the various donors, particularly alumni.
“We’ll need to do some short-term borrowing because a lot of donors pledge $1 million that they’ll pay for over five years. We have to start paying the bills; I can’t tell a contractor, ‘I’ll pay you when I get the money,’” Gould said.
The groundbreaking ceremony will take place the day after the last day of finals, when many students will be leaving campus.
“We will break ground in a great public celebration. Everyone is invited,” Robinson said. “The Burns sisters will be there, they are an excellent group of local singers, as well as a student group. There will be jugglers, an ice-cream cart, a cake in the shape of the museum … It should be wonderful.”
According to Robinson, the ceremony is on “a very appropriate day” since it marks the 35th anniversary of the Johnson Museum, which opened on May 18, 1973.