The Miracle on Quincy Street

The Sackler Museum Opens After Years of Controversy

Miracles are still possible.

For those who dreamed of building an addition to the overcrowded Fogg Art Museum, the opening of the Arthur M. Sackler Museum--after nearly ten years of planning that included a temporary cancellation--is nothing short of miraculous.

When Seymour Slive, former director of the Fogg Art Museum began planning an addition, it was not merely a luxury.

"The Fogg had already been overcrowded for more than a generation--it was really bursting to the seams," Slive said.

Various plans for additions were considered, and when the Allston Burr Lecture Hall became obsolete with the building of the Science Center in 1972, "We felt that we would move heaven and earth to get that site," Slive said.

Originally, the plan was simply to renovate Burr Hall, but because of a number of generous donors, most notably Arthur M. Sackler, the museum staff decided in 1977 that they would aim for a new building, Slive said.

"(Sackler) saw our need, and he started to help us, though originally in a more modest way--he planned on giving a small pavilion," Slive said.

"But when he discovered the magnitude of our holdings (in storage) and our desperate need for additional space, he decided to go all the way," he said.

The next step was finding an architect, and James Stirling was chosen in 1979 over 70 others.

By the end of 1981, about $7.5 million had been raised for construction, although the lowest construction bid was $7.8 million. In addition, building costs were rising by about 1 percent a month.

Because money was needed to finance construction and operating costs, a desperation plan was conceived whereby the Fogg would sell a portion of its artwork to provide the needed funding.

The plan was greatly criticized in the art world.

A 1982 Crimson story reported that The Association of Art Museum Directors--a national organization of leading curators--sent a telegram to President Derek C. Bok on January 23, officially opposing the plan and charging that such a sale violated an important aspect of museum administrators' written ethics.

But with $16.2 million successfully raised--$7.5 million of which was for consruction costs--the problems still seemed surmountable. It looked as though an additional building, though still underfinanced, would soon be built.

Then, on February 2, Bok cancelled the project.