On a chilly Friday this November, more than 200 members of the William & Mary community celebrated the formal groundbreaking of The Martha Wren Briggs Center for the Visual Arts, which will house the expanded Muscarelle Museum of Art on the Williamsburg campus.

The expanded museum will be a state-of-the-art venue for students, faculty, staff, alumni and the broader community to come together to experience world-class exhibitions and robust academic programs. Construction will begin in February 2023.

“Martha Wren Briggs inspired William & Mary to make close and creative engagement with the visual arts an integral part of the campus experience. With this expansion we are building on her vision in powerful ways,” said President Katherine A. Rowe. “Thanks to everyone who has brought us to this exciting moment.”

Joseph L. “Joe” Muscarelle Jr. shared the impact the university had on his parents, the late Joseph L. Muscarelle Sr. ’27 and Margaret Muscarelle. He also highlighted their role in establishing the Muscarelle Museum of Art, which first opened in 1983, and expressed his hopes for the future of the Briggs Center and the museum.

“Wow! The day is here — the expansion and update of the Muscarelle Museum is going forward. This is a day to celebrate,” he said. “I believe my dad felt he had received lessons in life [at William & Mary] that he cherished and forged when he was here. He learned both academically and culturally.”

Two people talk to each other at an event
Joseph L. “Joe” Muscarelle Jr. and David Brashear (Photo by Skip Rowland ’83)

He shared his gratitude to all those involved in the project to create something his parents would be proud of: “a very attractive exterior, extremely functional interior, easily navigable facility, as well as expanding its use educationally and culturally for the students and faculty of William & Mary.”

Nearly four decades after the opening of the museum, William & Mary is undertaking this expansion project, which will serve more fully as a dynamic resource for the community, a working laboratory for the university and a platform for visiting exhibitions and the museum’s own collection. Designed by the renowned architectural firm of Pelli Clarke Pelli, the additional 42,000 square feet will triple the museum’s size.

The Briggs Center was established in large part thanks to the generosity of one of the museum’s greatest benefactors, the late Martha Wren Briggs ’55. Briggs spent most of her life dedicating her time, talent and treasure advancing the arts on and off campus.

This project was also made possible through the generosity and contributions of the late Jim Kaplan ’57 and Jane Thompson Kaplan ’56, Joe Muscarelle Jr. and Sharon Muscarelle, the Owens Foundation and Henry C. “Hank” Wolf ’64, J.D. ’66 and Dixie D. Wolf.

The central mission of the Muscarelle is to advance art and artists, to build a dynamic and vibrant community, to promote thought-provoking dialogue and to encourage diverse and creative thinking. Its expansive space will feature interactive technologies and a teaching center for research and engaged learning, including the study of tangible works of art. It will have a modern event hall and gathering spaces to bring the William & Mary community together and will serve as a regional center for art exploration.

People mingle in front of a wall with an illustration of a building at night
Attendees at the groundbreaking viewed an illustration of the completed expansion project. (Photo by Skip Rowland ’83)

The center will be part of the William & Mary Arts Quarter, which will feature the expanded museum along with a renovated Phi Beta Kappa Memorial Hall, a new music building and the renovation and expansion of Andrews Hall and facilities for art and art history.

“The original museum construction was funded by a small band of dedicated donors, led by Joseph and Margaret Muscarelle,” said David Brashear, director of the Muscarelle Museum of Art. “Now, we begin the effort to expand their project to meet the demands of the 21st century. When we reopen in The Martha Wren Briggs Center for the Visual Arts, our facility will have been transformed. We look forward to the beginning of construction and the opening of our temporary space, where we expect to be hosting exhibitions, lectures and special events in the new year.”

During the program, Prasanna Patel ’24, a student intern at the museum and a photography major, shared the impact of the museum in her academic career as well as what she hopes the Briggs Center will enable for future students who follow in her footsteps.

“The museum’s immense collection of art is truly such a gift to the William & Mary community,” Patel said. “Being able to create an intimate relationship with so many different pieces has enriched my work as a photography student, as I continue to refer to pieces in our collection as points of inspiration. Thank you for your generosity and vision, which make this project possible and creates opportunities for even more students and members of our community to have life-changing, eye-opening experiences with art. This building expansion will facilitate new questioning and learning, and I cannot wait to see what our community creates from it.”

For fellow student intern Sarah Wicker ’23, a Gloucester, Virginia, native and student intern in the Community Engagement Department of the Muscarelle Museum, the museum provided direction, inspiration and purpose, all of which she hopes will increase for those who come to the Muscarelle in its new home.

“I arrived at William & Mary with no intention of following the arts,” said Wicker. “I first interacted with the museum after I won a contest to paint an immersive augmented reality conservation mural. After that project, I was encouraged by Steve Prince, director of engagement, to take the leap into the art world … Now as an intern with the museum I go out into the community and empower others through art in the same way the Muscarelle helped to empower me.” Wicker added, “That is what The Martha Wren Briggs Center represents for the future. This building expansion will allow us to invite more people into our museum. With the addition of the new workspaces, we will be able to hold more diverse workshops in size and medium. We will be able to connect more fully with our campus and the greater Williamsburg community. And we will provide more students like me the chance to find their passion and become forever changed.”

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