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Biggs Museum poised to start redevelopment

Katie Tabeling
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The Biggs Museum of American Art was granted two new buildings, seen on the left: 15 and 20 The Green. Both buildings are next door to the existing museum, and connecting the two will be explored in the forthcoming redevelopment plan.| PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BIGGS MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART

The Biggs Museum of American Art was granted two new buildings, seen on the left: 15 and 20 The Green. Both buildings are next door to the existing museum, and connecting the two will be explored in the forthcoming master plan.| PHOTO COURTESY OF THE BIGGS MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART

DOVER — Now in its 30th year, the Biggs Museum of American Art is starting a long journey to redevelop and expand its space, which will include using two historic buildings granted by the state.

The Biggs Museum plans on doubling its floor space with the grant of the Kirk and Short Building located at 15 and 21 The Green in Dover by the Delaware Department of State. The museum focuses on fine and decorative American art with an emphasis on Mid-Atlantic and Delaware artists.

Early projections suggest the renovation project could be done in four or five years at an estimated cost between $15 million and 30 million. But first, the Biggs Museum will plan exactly what the future holds for the additional 20,000 square feet of space. 

The Biggs Museum expansion master plan is set to be unveiled in April.

“What’s exciting everyone here is the concept of being a museum for the community, and having people engage with us in that way,” Biggs Museum Executive  Director Michael Dudich said. “Over the course of over 30 years, the collection grows, we do more exhibits and we simply need more space to do more for the community. With the gift of the buildings, it’s really enabled us to think of the future.”

The museum and the architectural, engineering and planning firm SmithGroup held community listening sessions at the end of 2022 to hear what the community wants to see in exhibits, programming and communal space. That will be balanced against the needs in modernizing the historic buildings.

The Kirk and Short Building, formerly known as the Todd House and the Kirk Printing Shop, was built in 1859 by Henry Todd, a prominent agriculturist who served as a state legislator and town commissioner of Dover. 

The Kirk and Short Building was most recently the administrative home to the Delaware Historical & Cultural Affairs, a division of the Department of State. The building served as office space for that division, and a public programming function was served from the building.

While Dudich noted there are already some thoughts among the museum staff about what the additional buildings could provide, the first renovation project would likely be modernizing the four-story historic buildings. For example, neither have elevators.

“We do experience things all other museums experience – we could always use more programming and exhibition space, and one of the biggest needs for storage,” Dudich said. “We’re bumping up against our limits, and when that happens, you may have to become selective in what you take. And you don’t want to be in the position where you have to turn something amazing down because you don’t have a place to store and care for it.”

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