Construction at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art
The first two of six renovation phases at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art are expected to continue at least through August 2020. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

If you’re having difficulty recalling a time when construction equipment wasn’t visible near the intersection of East Anapamu and State streets in Santa Barbara, you aren’t alone.

The massive restoration project at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art is the most ambitious and comprehensive in its history. The multiphased project started in 2016, and progress continues at the downtown museum at 1130 State St.

The project calls for six phases, and so far, phases one and two are in progress and expected to be finished by August 2020, according to Larry Feinberg, the museum’s director. The overall completion date is still to be determined.

“The project is structured to do the most critical things in the first stages,” Feinberg said. “As we move along to various stages, it becomes less and less absolutely critical.”

He said the museum is in serious need of repair. The changes come because the museum needs seismic retrofitting and other necessary structural work to its more than 100-year-old building as well as additional gallery space for its substantial number of art pieces.

Inside, there are red ladders against the towering brick walls, electrical wires across the ground floors and other items likely to be found on a construction site. Construction workers wear hard hats and fluorescent vests.

Museum representatives hope to raise $50 million to pay for the large-scale project.

Led by Santa Barbara-based architecture firm Kupiec Architects PC, the two stages underway are the most crucial, according to Feinberg. They include replacing the aging roof, updating the loading dock area, improving the air conditioning to better preserve and protect artwork, and other improvements.

Artist rendering of Santa Barbara Museum of Art gallery

An artist rendering of the new contemporary art gallery. (Santa Barbara Museum of Art photo)

Although tests show that the building is structurally sound, museum officials recognize the timely need to take action to protect the artwork housed in the galleries and storage facilities.

The majority of construction is taking place in the McCormick Wing and the original museum building, which was constructed in 1912 as a post office.

“These are the two oldest sections of the building,” Feinberg said. 

The museum has been modified and expanded multiple times over the years to better serve the community, but more work is needed.

The likelihood of earthquakes in a given time is a threat to both SBMA’s loaned exhibitions and permanent collection. The goal of the renovation project is to protect and preserve the artwork.

Something new at the museum will be a dedicated exhibition space for contemporary art and another gallery dedicated to photography, when phases one and two are finished.

“The first stages are the unglamorous parts of the project; however, we are adding two new galleries in this stage,” Feinberg said.

Construction at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art

Construction equipment has become a fixture inside the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Renovation work also includes French limestone and oak floors in the museum’s Ludington Court, plus state-of-the-art lighting and new installations. 

The loading dock, located along Anapamu Street, will be reconstructed so that the museum can transport and receive art objects of all sizes. The conservation areas and storage facilities are expanding to safeguard the museum’s growing art collection.

Plans call for internal renovations to enhance the overall museum experience, including a grand staircase that leads to three new galleries, a designated Park Wing entrance, a rooftop garden and a pavilion.

SBMA serves as a leading art organization on the Central Coast, Feinberg said, and the renovation work will benefit the arts programming that the museum is offering.

“By this time next year, the museum will be totally reopened,” Feinberg said recently during a hard-hat tour. “Then, we will move into the third stage of the project.”

The museum is open during construction. Click here for more information.

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.