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SLO Art Museum's plans to expand put on hold amid major fundraising challenges

Posted at 6:39 AM, Jan 28, 2020

The San Luis Obispo Museum of Art's board is headed back to the drawing board after funding for its plan to construct a new building fell short by about $12 million.

Plans for the new building have been underway for more than a decade and the SLOMA board started raising funds in 2017 after receiving approval from City Council.

But over the past three years, only $3 million of the board's $15 million goal was collected. A $1 million dollar grant SLOMA received had to be returned after the board failed to meet the gift's matching stipulation.

Among the reasons for a new building include a compromised roof on the current 60-year-old building, a present lack of humidity controls to protect the featured artworks, and a space big enough to showcase larger works of art.

The work of Craig Griswold, an artist based in Morro Bay, is currently on display at the art museum.

"To have a museum exhibition opens a whole new world," Griswold said.

This is the first time Gridwold's work is being shown publicly and he said he's grateful for the opportunity.

But many of his works of art cannot be shown in the current exhibit.

"Some of my paintings are 9 ft high, they can't be exhibited in the present museum because it would go from the ceiling to the floor," Griswold said.

Griswold paints large, vibrant canvases in the converted church he calls home. Griswold said he's sold some of his work to European collectors but, until now, hasn't received much attention here at home.

His art, a local production that's relatively unknown, is exactly what SLOMA looks for.

"Just being able to be in the presence of an original work of art, there's no substitution for it," SLOMA Executive Director Ruta Saliklis said.

Like Saliklis, Griswold believes museums like SLOMA are invaluable to the community.

"Seeing is just -- you could pick up a book, but going to a museum, you can begin to observe a painter and his styles and techniques and you begin to appreciate and it expands every viewer's life," Griswold said.

As for the building, Saliklis said the board is weighing all options, including a smaller building, renovations to the current building, and other less expensive alternatives.

"We still need a new building as much as we did before but we will rethink everything," Saliklis said.

The board did consider charging admission to what is currently a free museum but determined the limited revenue from entry fees does not justify the impact to low-income visitors.