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New Plans For Blanton Museum Will Further Transform Austin Around The Capitol

View from Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard looking north toward the Faulkner Gateway, and "Austin" by Ellsworth Kelly, with the Edgar A. Smith Building on left and the Mari and James A. Michener Gallery Building on right.
Blanton Museum of Art
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Plans for the Blanton renovation include new gardens and a public patio with 15 “petal-shaped shade structures” that will light up at night.

A planned redesign of the grounds around the Blanton Museum of Art on the UT campus aims to better integrate the museum with one of the most radically changing parts of downtown Austin: the area around the Texas Capitol.

An audience sits outside in the Blanton courtyard listening to musicians perform.
Blanton Museum of Art
The plan includes new performance spaces, gardens and a patio.

The Blanton renovation, announced in a press email this week, will include performance spaces, new gardens and a public patio with 15 “petal-shaped shade structures” that will light up at night to create “a one-of-a-kind visual marker for the Blanton.”

But the redesign is not happening in a vacuum. Museum officials say one of its big impacts will be the way it connects the Blanton, and UT, with a three-block pedestrian promenade under construction on the state Capitol complex.

The promenade is part of the redevelopment of the complex, started in 2018, which will consolidate state offices into new buildings closer to the Capitol.

Phase 1 of the plan also turns North Congress Avenue between the Capitol and the university into a tree-lined pedestrian space. Boosters of the project have said the space will be like Texas' very own version of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

The promenade will end at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and North Congress, where the Blanton resides.

Artist's rendering of a pedestrian mall
Courtesy of Timothy Wells
The Capitol complex plan calls for a grassy pedestrian mall between Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and 16th Street.

“The timing of these two projects coming together is going to really transform this part of Austin,” the museum's director, Simone Wicha, said. “I think it’s going to give Austin one more great space to really be proud of in connecting this kind of cultural district that we’ll have in the city of Austin.”

The idea to integrate the Blanton, and the nearby Bullock Museum, with the new public promenade can be found in plans for the Capitol complex, which refer to the area around North Congress and MLK as comprising a “new museum district” for the city.

That promenade is scheduled to open late this year. The redesign of the Blanton grounds is expected to be finished in 2022.

Wicha says the Blanton’s plans also include space for outdoor dining and improved walkways to connect the different buildings of the Blanton with Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin” building.

The renovation is the most recent of many plans to reshape the city near the Capitol. Others include the redesign of Waterloo Park, the redevelopment of the site of the Breckenridge Hospital, and the planned demolition of the Frank Irwin Center to make way for a new sports arena.

Got a tip? Email Mose Buchele at mbuchele@kut.org. Follow him on Twitter @mosebuchele.

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