The art and nature of engaging a community at the NC Museum of Art

The North Carolina Museum of Art has completed the redesign of their Park to include gardens, an elliptical lawn, and public art. To really make things fun they invited giant illuminated rabbits to welcome the public.

Art is meant to be experienced. When an artist sets out to create they have a plan for their finished work and what they want an audience to feel when they come in contact with their composition. That artistic level of intent is mirrored in the newly expanded North Carolina Museum of Art Park. “None of this could have happened without partnerships. We’ve had extraordinary ones from the beginning of the evolution of this park,” said NCMA Director Lawrence J. Wheeler. One such partnership is the Goodnight family for whom the park is named.”Ann and Jim Goodnight have helped to shape the NCMA for the future. We are very grateful for their friendship and support,” shared Wheeler.The public has been able to see a yearlong endeavor of construction, but the reality is that the planning, design, and execution of the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park on the NCMA campus has been in the works for quite some time. “The extraordinary thing is that it has been so long evolving and coming together,” said Wheeler. “We have been working to develop this notion of a park for 20 years.”The history of what once stood at this place now graced by park and gardens goes back much farther. This location has been a family farm, a Confederate encampment, a tank training facility, Camp Polk Prison Farm, and Polk Youth Detention Center.The Director of Planning, Design, and Museum Park, Dan Gottlieb describes the integration of the park expansion as site unification. “We are celebrating this pivotal moment,” said Gottlieb. “As many of you know this was a prison site and this is a long evolution of bringing the museum into this century and looking for a new vision and really consolidating this amazing asset that we have in this 164 acres and its transformation from a place of incarceration to a place of liberation and art.” The museum did retain the 120-foot tapered brick smokestack that stood on the prison site as a nod to history and as Gottlieb said, “it provides a beacon, a way to say ‘hello we are the museum of art — we are here’.”Each new feature merges seamlessly with the existing museum space.The EllipseThe first temporary installation, Amanda Parer’s “Intrude” ( giant glowing bunnies) is situated on the verdant lawn bordered by a wooden bench and walkway with a seating area. “The Ellipse is the centerpiece both geographically and philosophically,” said Gottlieb.The PromenadeA new wide path winds through the Park connecting the Museum’s galleries and the expanded park inviting those on foot and bike to journey through.The Wave GardensThere are 20 mounded gardens intermingled with the plants and benches around the Promenade and Blue Ridge Road parking. No detail was overlooked here either — the color and texture will change with the seasons as the bulbs and grasses bloom in time.Parterre Lawn and GardensAn interior garden planting that connects the Ellipse and the Wave Gardens to Blue Ridge Road using two lawns with ten raised and tilted gardens on either side. These will also be used for sculpture installations and events.
The first large scale sculpture installation is coming in December in the form of Mark di Suvero’s massive steel sculptures. “These enormous, bold sculptures will energize the Museum Park — welcoming people from Blue Ridge Road and adding an element of color and geometric line that will contrast beautifully with the natural landscape,” said Gottlieb.The vibe of the Ann and Jim Goodnight Museum Park extension is not complete, as Gottlieb alludes to a 2017 acquisition of a tract of land across the street and further promises of even more public art. “This is a way to reach people that may not necessarily come into the museum, where you are in nature and can interact with art informally,” said Gottlieb. “And where traditional users can further broaden the way they experience the museum.”As it was the Park drew over 150,000 visitors per year, with the completion of the expansion that number is certain to increase exponentially.
The North Carolina Museum of Art wants the public to be a part of the celebration of the Ann and Jim Goodnight Park opening. Go to for all the details on the special events they have planned.