'Confusion' leads to county council limiting funds for Evansville museum Picasso exhibit (2024)

EVANSVILLE — The Vanderburgh County Council was too confused Wednesday afternoon to approve the full amount of money the Evansville Museum of Arts, History & Science needs to display its Pablo Picasso glasswork in a finished art gallery.

Explore Evansville CEO Alexis Berggren and museum director Mary Bower made the $500,000 request last week during the council's personnel and finance meeting. That amount was presented as the final funding needed to allow the museum to exhibit "Seated Woman With Red Hat," a rare glass artwork and recreation of a Picasso paintingthat bears the famous artist's signature.

Wednesday, the council approved $300,000 noting "confusion" around what the project entailed. The full amount had been presented by Bower as enough to cover the rest of the $2.5 million price tag to renovate the museum's gallery where the glass art would be displayed. It's opening date is set for June 22.

It's part of a much larger renovation project the museum is working on. During last week's meeting, and again Wednesday, Bower said there are two phases. Phase One is the art gallery and the second phase is the history gallery. In total it will cost about $9.5 million and Phase Two is not planned to start for at least a few years, Bower said last week.

Despite Berggren telling council last week that $500,000 gets the museum the Picasso on display, council didn't want to vote on the money when there was so much still left to be raised out of the $9.5 million.

'Confusion' leads to county council limiting funds for Evansville museum Picasso exhibit (2)

"I think the consensus is not to do anything today, to table this and pick it up on the back end after you have, for sure, secured your other fundraising efforts to accumulate the $9.5 million," James Raben said.

At this point, Bower reiterated that the $9.5 million is the total price, for a project with two phases.

"We're asking for funding to complete this phase," she said.

"Here's where the confusion lies," Raben said. "We weren't given this information last week that it was two different projects."

Raben said the money could be addressed at another time, but the action they were making was based solely on the information they had from last week.

"I apologize, I felt like it was made clear that it was two separate phases," Berggren said. "That was certainly how it was presented to our own board and so I believe that's how it was presented here, that it was in two phases."

Where is the money coming from that county council approved?

The money is coming out of the Tourism Capital Improvement Fund, which is funded by innkeeper tax. It cannot be used for anything outside of projects aimed at bringing more tourism to the county.

"It's tourism money designed to fuel tourism infrastructure," Berggren said. "This project, whether you're an art enthusiast or not, we see as improvement and investment for future visitors to our community. I don't think it should be seen as an expense to Evansville or Vanderburgh County."

Berggren said the project is a worthy one, one that will add to the city's cultural landscape.

Where are fundraising efforts for the museum?

The rest of the money to renovate the art gallery was through private donors, and one grant from the state totaling $52,000 from the Indiana Destination Development Corporation.

"We're so close now with the art," Bower said. "We're hopeful we'll be able to finish that area quickly. The history area, that's a much bigger price tag, but we have been very successful in raising dollars."

The museum added its immersive theater through a $14 million capital campaign within the last 10 years.

"We do have a proven track record and great support within the community and the region for fundraising," she said.

Raben replied: "I get that, and please, I'm not trying to be disrespectful here, but hope has never been a plan."

What happens with the project now?

The original $500,000 request was to finish the art gallery and display the glasswork piece.

Bower said the museum will display the piece and continue to finish the gallery around it.

The $300,000 in funding was passed unanimously, with comment from multiple councilors for them to come back and try for more.

"I would encourage you to come back, as well," president Jill Hahn said. "I think this body was very confused from last week's presentation and was not really ready to vote for the project that we originally intended that is presented today."

'Confusion' leads to county council limiting funds for Evansville museum Picasso exhibit (2024)
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