A Bigger, Better Home for Art in Downtown Kalispell

By Beacon Staff

In a brisk bit of business at its April 20 meeting, Kalispell City Council granted a zoning change to the Hockaday Museum of Art for four adjacent lots. While the vote took little time, the zoning change marks one of the first official steps in an ambitious expansion campaign by the museum likely to take years – and that is planned to result in the Hockaday tripling in size.

“We’ve just become a product of the success we’ve had,” Tabby Ivy, president of the museum’s board of directors, said. “We’re hoping to plan for that future to keep us growing with the community.”

The Hockaday is beginning a campaign to raise $5.6 million that Ivy anticipates could take anywhere from three to five years to achieve. The result will be a museum with gallery space increased from 2,800 square feet to more than 7,100 square feet. The overall expansion, based on initial designs by CTA Architects, will be around 21,000 square feet, Ivy said. Designed around the original century-old Carnegie library building at the corner of Second Avenue East and Third Street East, the expanded Hockaday will wrap around a central courtyard separating the new wings from the original structure.

Ivy and other board members believe the need for a bigger Hockaday is only increasing. At present, the museum has more pieces of art than it has the space to display at one time. And some pieces, particularly from Glacier National Park, are so large they are difficult to display without crowding out much of the other art.

“Our permanent collection has grown to the point that we can’t display it all at one time,” Ivy said. “Something has to come down to be able to put up something else.”

The plan for the new museum would have four galleries on the main floor, allowing adequate space for the permanent collection along with traveling exhibitions, and class space for expanded educational programs. Added space would allow the museum to offer more public events, and host private receptions.

Office space is also severely limited at the Hockaday, Ivy said, and as the museum grows and offers more classes and programs, so too will the need for more full-time staff – and those new employees will need workspace.

The Hockaday expansion has been in the works for years, with the board looking at other locations before eventually deciding that the current location was the best place to be. The city of Kalispell, which owns the museum, purchased one of the adjoining lots several years ago, and museum patrons bought another adjoining lot, each of which has a house standing on them.

In the short term, the museum plans to tear down the two homes and construct a parking lot on the south side of one of the lots. Between the parking lot and the current museum, a temporary tent structure will go up, providing a venue for summer classes with children.

“Parking will help the current museum and provide more space to do outdoor activities with kids,” Ivy said.

With the state of the economy, many nonprofits across the country are suffering from decreased funding, particularly in the arts. Ivy acknowledged this could slow down the pace of fundraising, but added that the Hockaday intends to follow through on its plan, and that in the short term, contractors are eager for work and offering lower rates.

“There’s always going to some competing reason to come up with why you don’t do it,” Ivy said. “If we can get some of this funding going, construction costs are down.”

For now, museum officials are focused on the initial stages of the project, which entail getting the proper zoning approvals from the city council and refining the footprint of the expanded building with the architect. But one thing seems sure: a bigger Hockaday is in Kalispell’s future. It’s just a question of when.

“People are recognizing the value of the Hockaday to the community,” Ivy said. “Having a vibrant museum in the heart of the Flathead Valley is beneficial to everyone.”