Design panel supports visionary museum plan

Rouse Center to house art, learning space

January 12, 2001|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

Don't be alarmed if one day you're driving along Key Highway and glimpse people standing near the American Visionary Art Museum, speaking loudly and passionately and waving their arms at no one in particular.

They'll probably be using the outdoor "speaker's corner," a feature of the proposed Jim Rouse Visionary Center, which would encourage people to stand and speak their mind.

The center, the latest project of the American Visionary Arts Museum, was approved yesterday by city's Design Advisory Panel.

A five-story art and learning space is planned in an abandoned pre-Prohibition-era brick warehouse that has been vacant for 50 years and is full of wooden racks that once held whiskey barrels.

The Design Advisory Panel, an architectural board that makes recommendations on developments to architects, told museum founder Rebecca A. Hoffberger that they support the design of her $8 million project, which would complete the museum's three-building campus.

The 5-year-old museum, dedicated to self-taught "outsider" artists, named the center for James W. Rouse, the developer and humanitarian who founded the Rouse Co., because of his foresight in encouraging equality and free-thinking, Hoffberger said.

The nonprofit museum at 800 Key Highway took over the 11,872-square-foot warehouse in August and has a half-century, $1-a-year, renewable lease with the city. It is at 840 Key Highway, next to the museum sculpture barn, which is adjacent to the original building. The buildings would be connected by outdoor walkways.

A "creative social responsibility center," where visitors could sift through archives addressing urban problems, and a hands-on classroom space, where they could create art with nontraditional materials, are planned.

The center also would have a 30-foot tall "Visionary Village" space to display art that's too large for the other buildings.

"With this space, we are defining our personal vision," Hoffberger said.

The faM-gade of the center is to carry the words "Oh, say, can you see" in neon lights. The phrase from "The Star-Spangled Banner" refers to the visionary aspects of Rouse as well as to the harbor, Hoffberger said.

Under current plans, designed by architects at Cho Benn Holback + Associates, Montgomery Street, between the barn and the original building, would have the main entrance and would be converted to a pedestrian-only street.

Visitors would be able to park across the street at the Ritz-Carlton garage, or in a 10-space parking lot that would be constructed near the museum.

The only recommendation the design panel made was that the parking lot should have a more creative design.

The museum is waiting to hear from the Maryland Historical Trust on whether it will approve $2 million in state and federal tax credits for the project.

If all goes according to plan, construction should begin by the end of the year, and be completed in 15 months, Hoffberger said.

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