Mega donor Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree with CEO Larry Feinberg | Credit: Gail Arnold

On August 14, the Santa Barbara Museum of Art welcomed members and VIPs to a Reopening Preview Day. More than 800 people came out to explore the museum after a six-year renovation project. Smiles, looks of awe, and congratulatory remarks were pervasive.

The ongoing Capital Campaign is just $400,000 shy of its $50 million goal, which is designed to cover not only the costs of Phases 1 and 2, which were just completed at an undisclosed cost, but significant future work as well.

With staggered arrival times over the seven-hour event, guests were able to easily explore their treasured museum while keeping socially distant from one another. The public was welcomed the following day, with staggered arrivals, to a Free Community Day, complete with live music and art-making activities. More than 1,000 guests turned out for this equally exciting day.

During the six-year renovation, the 109-year-old building was seismically retrofitted; its security, storage, and climate-control systems were overhauled; a new art-receiving facility with expanded capacity was built; and galleries were redesigned. There are new dedicated spaces for contemporary art, photography, and new media. About 80 percent of the cost went to infrastructure. The renovation was led by Santa Barbara–based Kupiec Architects PC and executed by Santa Maria–based Diani Building Corporation.

A larger number of pieces can now be displayed because of an additional 1,000 square feet of gallery space and because of several significant layout changes. The museum now has 21,000 square feet of gallery space and 67,100 square feet overall. For much of the renovation period, the museum managed to keep about one-third of the gallery open to the public.

With the massive federal aid programs made necessary by the pandemic, large dollar figures can lose their significance. However, $50 million is an extraordinarily large sum to raise for a museum in a relatively small city like Santa Barbara, especially during the time of the Thomas Fire, 1/9 Debris Flow, and pandemic, yet the eight-year capital campaign has nearly succeeded.

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From the start, the board was committed to raising the entire amount needed so future trustees would not be saddled with any debt. Current and former museum trustees hugely stepped up for the campaign, contributing a whopping 60 percent of the funds raised. Moreover, Campaign Committee Co-Chairs Joan Davidson and Marshall Milligan led by example with generous donations. 

The largest donation, $5+ million, came from the Robert and Mercedes Eichholz Foundation. Diane Cunningham and Lady Leslie Ridley-Tree both contributed in excess of $4 million. All are longtime contributors.

The future phases, still in the planning stages, include new galleries for Asian art, a new roof terrace garden and pavilion, and renovations to the auditorium, Museum Store, Museum Café, and a couple of galleries and wings. The $50 million also funds an $8 million Facility Maintenance & Capital Expenditures Fund.

The museum, with 25,000 works of art, has impressive collections of 19th- and 20th-century American and European art, Asian art, contemporary American painting, and photography. It offers extensive educational programming for youth and adults. Reservations are recommended.

For coverage of other events, go to

Board Chair Nick Mutton with Campaign Chairs and Life Honorary Trustees Joan Davidson and Marshall Milligan at another event | Credit: Baron Spafford Photography
Chris Kleveland, Zora Charles, Sustaining Trustee Pat Aoyama, and Sustaining Trustee Les Charles at another event | Credit: Baron Spafford Photography
Sustaining Trustees Margaret Arvey and Jane Gottlieb at another event | Credit: Baron Spafford Photography
Women’s Boardmembers Karen Tenzer, Jeanne Fulkerson, and Linda Wortham | Credit: Gail Arnold
Robert Dewhirst and docent Joan Dewhirst | Credit: Gail Arnold

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