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Smithsonian exhibit opens in local museum on Jan. 11 to public

The big day will be here in only 16 days. The grand opening of the new McDuffie Museum on Main Street and the display of the Smithsonian Institute's traveling exhibit, Key Ingredients, is Saturday, Jan. 10.

"I never thought this was going to happen. It's amazing," said museum board member Judy Shapiro during a tour of the facility at the end of November. "The people will be amazed with the transformation, but will still feel the nostalgia of the building when they walk in and see the balcony, the safe and the chandeliers."

Renovations began earlier this year by Two State Construction on the old Sun Trust bank building and the adjacent building on Main Street.

"It took a lot to get it structurally sound up to today's standards," Two State's Jeff Cowart told the board members during the tour.

The 13,500-square-foot building consists mostly of gallery space, collection storage, elevator and corridor, a library and mini-theater and a catering kitchen.

2km Architect project manager Michael Grenz said the gallery space also will double as a prep area for exhibits.

"In a short period of time, it's gone from an empty, derelict building to one of the finest in Georgia," board member Rusty Lovelace said. "It's really finer than anything I envisioned when we first started. It's so elegant looking. It's really first class."

Most of the second floor will remain open to the first floor, exposing the original ceiling of the Sun Trust building. The old vault has been furnished with approximately 15 chairs and a television for the mini-theater. The old safe could not be removed from the vault, so it remains as a storage cabinet for videos and cassettes. "It's such a great feat to me to transform this old building. Just the experience of walking into an old vault is amazing," Mr. Grenz said.

Parking is available behind the building, with entrances in both the front and the back. Mary Anne Coussons, the executive director for Camellia Partners, Inc., which has been overseeing the project, said the elevator will not be operational at the time of the grand opening, so she recommends people who can't handle steps to go around the outside of the building and enter through the front door.

Mrs. Coussons also said the new phones have been installed, and resumes have been accepted for the new curator, who will be hired by the grand opening.

To get the building completed in time for the Smithsonian exhibit, the board had to take out a loan with a two year repayment plan. At a board meeting last week, board member Robert Knox, Jr. said they had "only asked a handful of people for donations," but will work on fundraising ideas shortly after the museum opens.

"We basically have three very large contributors and several other smaller ones," he said, adding that the board would figure out details of how to handle membership and continuous pledges after consulting with others in the field.

There will be no admission charge for the museum "at this point," according to Mrs. Coussons. A private, invitation-only grand opening will be held on Saturday, Jan. 10, and the public grand opening is from 2-4 p.m. on Sunday, Jan. 11.

Web posted on Thursday, December 25, 2008

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