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Montana Museum of Art and Culture Curator Jeremy Canwell points out the restoration work done on 19th-century painter Jules Dupré's "Animals Crossing a Bridge" in May on the University of Montana campus. The restoration work took six months and cost in the five-figure range. 

The Montana Museum of Art and Culture has taken a major step toward a dedicated building for its massive collection of art, which includes works by artists ranging from Delacroix to Warhol and Rudy Autio.

This week, the University of Montana announced a $5 million donation for the campus-based museum to go toward a proposed Montana Heritage Pavilion.

A permanent home would allow one of the oldest museums in the region to show more of its thousands of holdings, which are out of sight in storage or shown on occasion in its two galleries in the PAR/TV Center.

Museum director H. Rafael Chacón said it's a "momentous day" for the MMAC and thanked the Terry and Patt Payne Family, who previously donated money to UM's Payne Family Native American Center. They gave this first donation to encourage further contributions for the building, Chacón said.

In a news release, Terry Payne, a 1963 UM graduate, said, “we are enthusiastic to be a catalyst in bringing the art treasures of the University of Montana to the light of day so that they may be displayed for all to enjoy after such a long period of storage."

With the MMAC's current gallery space, it can only show about 1% of the collection at any given time, Chacón said.

"We don't have too many opportunities to put the permanent collection on display, and really that's the core of the museum. This is a fabulous collection of objects that represents 2,000 years of history — and the entire world," said Chacón, also a faculty member.

It's too early to discuss the building's size or design or total necessary funding. However, he said it will have room to store and display the collection. Traveling and rotating exhibitions that are currently held in the Paxson and Meloy galleries in the PAR/TV Building will continue to be occupy those spaces.

In the past, there were proposals to put the museum downtown, including a pitch for the former Macy's building. The new building, dedicated solely to the MMAC, will be located on campus.  

"The primary mission of the museum is to educate, so it makes more sense for us to be here on campus," Chacón said.

Regardless of shape or form, it's been an elusive goal for years.

The museum was founded in 1893, and since then, its permanent collection has grown to more than 11,000 historical objects and artworks, including European, Asian and Native American and Western art.

The most recent large acquisition comprises nine pieces from the collection of Copper King and former Montana U.S. Sen. William A. Clark, including a piece attributed to Donatello.

Those joined masterworks by Miro, Picasso and Dali. Artists with Montana ties include ceramicists with worldwide reputations like Autio and Peter Voulkos. Beyond the marquee additions like the Clark collection, it receives other valuable donations and acquires works from living artists.

The new space is a "real opportunity" to put these on display for Montana residents and visitors and UM students, and set a stage for further growth.

"The museum is more than just bricks and mortar, but brick and mortar are important. They are defining, so this institution, without a permanent home with a facility that we call our home, has in some ways not been a full museum," he said. 

He sees this as a chance for the MMAC to assume that broader role, including the potential for new forms of exhibitions and programs.