Boston Athenaeum Set to Complete Revitalization of its Landmark Building in the Heart of Boston
Adding new space creates significant opportunities for enhanced programming and future growth
The Boston Athenaeum is entering a new chapter.
After 16 months of construction to revitalize and expand its 1849 landmark building in the heart of Boston, the Athenaeum will re-open its iconic red doors to members and visitors on November 15.
The transformational changes not only enhance the classic beauty of the building but also add space for more programs and events, more varied art, more places for reading and research, more opportunities for connection, and, soon, a brand-new street level cafe.
“This is a tremendously exciting time for the Athenaeum,” said Timothy Diggins, president of the Boston Athenaeum. “Our renovation and expansion preserve all of the best of the traditional Athenaeum experience, but open up spaces for listening to music, enjoying our huge art collection, reading, attending lectures, meeting with friends, or having a bite to eat. We invite everyone to come in and see how much we have to offer to the cultural and intellectual life of the city and New England.”
The Boston Athenaeum is a unique combination of library, museum, and cultural center. It is one of the country’s oldest and most distinguished independent libraries, with a circulating collection of over half a million books, from works published in the 1800s to the latest best sellers. Special collections include active research holdings of 100,000 rare books, maps and manuscripts, and 100,000 works of art, from paintings and sculpture to prints and photographs.
In addition to access to the library’s five galleried floors, members enjoy a year-round schedule of cultural programming, including author talks, gallery exhibitions, concerts, speakers, book clubs, and social gatherings.
“We are a member-supported organization that anyone can join,” said Leah Rosovsky, the Athenaeum’s Director. “We welcome readers, writers, academics, researchers, historians and artists from all walks of life, united in their curiosity about literature, culture, art, ideas and the world. While the Athenaeum is steeped in strong traditions, our focus on sparking important conversations and the continuous acquisition of knowledge keep us firmly attuned to changing times.”
As the Athenaeum upgraded its landmark building, it also re-envisioned how its collection is presented and interpreted to reflect a more expansive view of American art and history. “We want to give our members and visitors deeper engagement with a wider range of work from our collection,” said John Buchtel, Curator of Rare Books and Head of Special Collections. “That means bringing forth a diverse selection of artwork in a wider range of media, including more work by and of women and people of color, and looking at the works in our collections with fresh eyes.”
In 2021, the Athenaeum was awarded a grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art to support the reinstallation of artwork in the Henry Long room on the first floor. “Re-Reading Special Collections” will be on view when the Athenaeum re-opens on November 15.
Also, on view for the first time at the Athenaeum’s re-opening:
- A newly commissioned mural by Ekua Holmes, a lifelong resident of Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood, visual artist and Caldecott Award winning children’s book illustrator, will be installed in the Children’s Library. Her new collage will depict children of diverse backgrounds and create a welcoming dynamic and inclusive space for the Athenaeum’s youngest readers.
- The opening exhibition in the newly located Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery will be Materialia Lumina/Luminous Books, which showcases a selection of outstanding contemporary artists’ books created by some of the world’s most accomplished makers over the past twenty-five years. The Athenaeum is one of three venues for this international exhibition, along with Stanford University Libraries and the Klingspor Museum in Offenbach, Germany.
- The Athenaeum recently acquired a rare painting by the acclaimed nineteenth-century artist Robert S. Duncanson. Born in upstate New York in 1821 to free Black parents, Duncanson was a leading American landscape painter, regardless of race, in the years before and after the American Civil War.
In addition to renovations and enhancements at its long-time home at 10½ Beacon St., the Athenaeum also increased its footprint by approximately 12,000 square feet by expanding into an adjacent building at 14 Beacon St. The architect for the revitalization project is Annum Architects, formerly Ann Beha Architects, a national leader in preservation, adaptive reuse and contemporary design for historic settings. Ann Beha FAIA is the Design Principal.
“Architecture has always played a starring role at the Boston Athenaeum, a place as unique, inspiring and relevant today as it was a century ago,” said Beha. “We first immersed ourselves in the Athenaeum’s history and its evolution over many years. We wanted our design to celebrate that architectural journey and move it forward. This new chapter renews historic resources, adds welcoming spaces, integrates technology, and confirms that the Athenaeum is a place for everyone. “
Planning for the renovation and expansion, the Athenaeum solicited its members’ voices, asking what improvements they most desired. As a result, the Athenaeum will have:
- A new Children’s Library, reimagined to inspire the youngest readers, under six, and moved to provide better access for families.
- A new Norma Jean Calderwood Gallery that’s more open, more inviting, better lit, and more conducive to experiencing the varied exhibitions and art from the collections.
- A 40-seat street level café – the Athenaeum’s first — for members and visitors, to enliven the connection to the community. With an opening planned for winter 2023, the café will be operated by The Catered Affair, the Athenaeum’s exclusive event caterer.
- The new Leventhal Room, a showcase space extending the Athenaeums first floor, with sweeping views over the Granary Burying Ground and comfortable places to read and talk.
- A new Study Center to offer members, researchers, school field trips and special docent tours better engagement with the Athenaeum’s collections.
- New “Living Rooms” on the fourth floor, inviting spaces for members, with unbeatable views of the Boston skyline.
- A renovated lobby that is lighter, brighter and more welcoming.
- More nooks and alcoves for reading, writing or quiet reflection.
- Integrated technology throughout; web, Zoom, and IT connectivity and resources.
The Athenaeum will celebrate with a series of events including a special reception for members in January, 2023 and an open house for the entire community in April, 2023.
For a full calendar of events, to register for a tour or purchase a day pass, or to become a member, please visit: bostonathenaeum.org
Founded in 1807, the Boston Athenaeum is a unique combination of library, museum and cultural center. The Athenaeum’s present home at 10 ½ Beacon St., designed by Edward Clarke Cabot, opened in 1849 and was named a National Historic Landmark in 1965. One of the country’s oldest and most distinguished independent libraries, the Athenaeum’s circulating collection includes over half a million books, from works published in the 1800s to the latest best sellers. Special collections include active research holdings of 100,000 rare books, maps and manuscripts, and 100,000 works of art, from paintings and sculpture to prints and photographs. Members, visitors and the community enjoy a year- round calendar of cultural programs – – book talks, exhibitions, concerts, speakers, social gatherings and other opportunities for connection. The Athenaeum is a member-supported not-for-profit institution that everyone is invited to join. Bostonathenaeum.org
Contact: Alex Boonstra