Original Picture

University of X Art Museum

  • New Museum Feasibility Study
  • USA
  • 2014


With apologies, this client cannot be revealed at this time due to the sensitive nature of the project which is not publicly announced. It is included it here to provide a window on a WCA project that includes working with an institution, donors, development consultants, educators, operational management consultants and cost estimators.

The University of X and a major collector of art are in discussion to create a new museum on a large university campus.   The University and donor jointly hired WCA to develop a feasibility study to determine if this project was in the interest of both parties.

The donor, named by ArtNews as one of the 100 most important private art collectors in the world wants to have his collection used, transform an institution and ‘keep his collection out of the city museum’s basement’.  The University envisions this museum as an opportunity to enhance its curriculum, differentiate itself from its peers and draw new donors who might give collections and resources.

The study is to mutually understand the impact of the potential gift of ‘old masters to contemporary masters’ and the identify the resources required to make this museum an integral part of the life of the campus.


WCA was hired to investigate how the University, traditionally focused on the sciences with little curriculum focused on the arts, might use this collection as a new learning experience across their curriculum.  Fundamental to this investigation was to ensure that the museum had operating resources to ensure its capacity to deliver new and innovative exhibits and non-traditional cutting edge programming to campus on off-campus audiences.

The project began with benchmarking of ten peer (and aspirational) universities and a summary report to inform discussions.  Subsequent visioning sessions with the donor and University leadership established their shared goals.  Overlaps and gaps were explored and a baseline set of activities informed by the benchmarking were established that would provide the minimum threshold for creating a vital institution.  This baseline was translated into a program of spaces and staff required to implement a wide array of exhibits and programs, informing a preliminary operating budget.


As might be expected, the resources needed were greater than the means, and through discussion the priority to provide more staffing and more program with less built space emerged.  This led to examination of how 40% of the program would be in existing facilities on campus as a ‘museum beyond the walls’ while 60% of the space would be ‘onsite’ in a new building.  The spaces were separated into ‘seeing’ and ‘doing’ – spaces where the valuable collection could be exhibited, and spaces where students could curate responses and make art.  This dovetailed with the understanding that most students would seldom visit a museum, and resulted in the concept of ‘putting the art where the students naturally gather’. Staffing and operational models and the space program were revised, 5 site options were explored, and the site selected was integrated into the operational budgeting to ensure it accurately reflected the true costs of the museum.

The University and donor are negotiating final agreements based on a new model of museum that has energized both parties and in agreement with more broadly shared mutual goals.