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walkable art

See inside MFAH's new masterpiece art school before it opens to the public

See inside masterpiece MFAH art school before it opens to the public

Glassell School, night view
A night view of the new Glassell School. Photo by Richard Barnes
Glassell School central stairway
Yes, you'll feel like you're climbing into a M.C. Escher painting walking up the central staircase of the Glassell School. Photo by Tarra Gaines
Glassell School view from the BBVA Compass Roof Garden
A view from the BBVA Compass Roof Garden.  Photo by Tarra Gaines
Brown Foundation Plaza & Cloud Column
Cloud Column, which looks nothing like a bean, touches down on the Brown Foundation Inc, Plaza. Photo by Tarra Gaines
Glassell School central stairway
Will the central stairway be a favorite drawing subject of Glassell students?  Photo by Tarra Gaines
Glassell School
The Glassell School officially opens May 20.  Photo by Tarra Gaines
Glassell School, night view
Glassell School central stairway
Glassell School view from the BBVA Compass Roof Garden
Brown Foundation Plaza & Cloud Column
Glassell School central stairway
Glassell School

The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston will give the world a new angle on what an art education space can become as it officially opens the many doors of the Glassell School of Art on May 20 and invites the whole city to take in some cool, reflective shade from Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Column — while exploring the building and the Brown Foundation, Inc. Plaza.

The Glassell School opening marks the completion of the first phase of the museum’s campus redevelopment with the entire Susan and Fayez S. Sarofim Campus Project, including the Nancy and Rich Kinder Building for modern and contemporary art, and the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation Center for Conservation scheduled for fruition in 2020.

At a recent media preview of the Glassell School, MFAH director Gary Tinterow delivered another grand announcement, that having reached $400 million in the project’s capital campaign goal, Nancy and Rich Kinder had issued a $25 million challenge grant to help reach the campaign’s $450 million goal.

“The entire campus project is a testament to Houston’s historical legacy of what could be called city-building through arts and culture philanthropy, and the Kinders are an extraordinary example of what is now a century-old Houston tradition,” described Tinterow.

Richard D. Kinder, who is also MFAH chairman of the board; Alfred C. Glassell III, MFAH trustee; Nancy Abendshein, Brown Foundation trustee; and Onur Genç, president and CEO of BBVA Compass joined Tinterow for the media briefing and emphasized the placement of the Glassell School and Brown Foundation, Inc. Plaza as both a physical and creative connection between the museum and the greater Houston community, continuing the MFAH’s mission to be a place for all people.

Climbing into the clouds
The inside of the three-story, 93,765-square-foot building designed by Steven Holl Architects is filled with what seems like thousands of lines and planes of cool, soothing grays. I know I wasn’t the only one feeling I was falling upwards into a M.C. Escher lithograph when looking up and getting lost in all the seemingly paradoxical angles of the building’s central stairway. But when the Glassell is explored together as one with the Deborah Nevins & Associates designed Brown Foundation, Inc. plaza, it becomes difficult to pinpoint exactly where the space ends and begins.

Both the school and plaza lie atop the museum underground parking and can be accessed directly from the garage, one route by stairs up to the plaza another by elevator directly inside the L-shaped Glassell building. Visitors can also just wander into the expansive space from the Montrose sidewalk, as no fencing lines the plaza.

For an even more spectacular entrance into the school, I climbed the gently sloping roofline stairs, past a stepped amphitheater up to the BBVA Compass Roof Garden. Another door into the third-floor of the school lies atop the roof garden, but it’s difficult not to pause and take in the 360-degree view of the Houston tree-and-skyscraper-lined horizon spread out all around us. The garden feels like it spills out onto all of Houston, or perhaps all of Houston becomes a part of the BBVA Compass Roof Garden.

The MFAH’s heart
“Education has been at the heart of the Museum of Fine Arts since its founding in 1900,” reminded Kinder in his opening remarks.

Having taken art class years ago as a child and then sculpture classes as an adult, I felt a particular empathetic thrill for all the present and future students who will soon learn and make their art in the new building. The Glassell School education programs and classes reach students as young as 3-year-olds, to adults, to the postgraduate artists and critics of the Core Program.

The new building boasts 24 studios for adults and youth, eight Core Program artists’ studios, four Core Program critical-writers’ studios, a 75-seat auditorium and exhibition space throughout to hang and display students’ work. The school is expecting enrollment to grow to 8,500 students with the expanded course offerings the new facility will bring.

The hub for culture
Tinterow explained that community development will be a key component of the campus redevelopment as the Museum invites community partners, performing arts organizations, and entities that develop cultural programming to bring their creative and educational work to the museum, predicting the the MFAH will act as “Houston’s hub for all things cultural.”

Wandering the plaza and the Glassell building, it’s easy to imagine how the new campus can bring a multitude of groups, organizations and individual Houstonians to create together. The vast spaces of the Glassell and the Brown Plaza will give much room for performing arts, cultural and educational programming in the coming months, years and decades.

And to begin its role as Houston cultural hub immediately, on Sunday, May 20, the MFAH, along with many community partners, will present Celebrating Community: Opening Day, to welcome Houston into the new space.

The celebratory event will include performances from Texas Southern University Jazz Ensemble, Ballet Folklorico Performance with MECA, Aperio, METdance, as well as creative and participatory programming from HISD, Inprint, Houston Public Library, Houston Community College, and many more, so check the MFAH website for the full schedule.