Butler Institute of American Art expands

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The Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown has expanded its facilities in an old church.

Museum officials showed off their new skywalk and exhibits Thursday after a ribbon cutting ceremony. The skywalk connects the museum with its new expansion in the former First Christian Church just one property to the north on Wick Avenue.

The $1.5 million project started in 2012. The money was raised mostly through community donations.

“Not easy to do, especially in a not-so-special economy. Generally it’s local people, local foundations who really believe in the Butler, love the Butler and own the Butler,” said museum director Lou Zona.

He said the project has been a long time coming.

“This is a most exciting time. We have been dreaming of this for a long time and it has finally happened. With the help of this community, they have really came out and really assisted us in making this a reality,” Zona said.

The new facility is an education center featuring classrooms and a performance space, but it also contains galleries for the Butler’s Americana and folk art collections. The new exhibits all deal with American folk art like comics, carousel horses and replicas.

“I just think it is exciting for new options, artistically speaking, in every way, shape or form. And more of that here right in the city,” said Rev. Jim Ray.

For Ray, the new addition holds a special place in his heart. He was a campus minister and had his offices in the First Christian Church.

“I know all too often what we have done with old church buildings. We have done away with them. But they are a part of our history. And this building has been here for a long long time and I was grateful,” Ray said.

The Butler is not done yet with the old church. Officials plan on expanding inside the church, including a gallery geared toward children.

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