An open house on Saturday, Dec. 11, noon-7:30 p.m., at UNM's Harwood Museum of Art – now in its 86th year, the second oldest museum in the state – celebrates the culmination of more than a decade of planning and partnership in a three-level, 10,700 square-foot expansion.

In 1999, Harwood Museum Director Bob Ellis and board member Gus Foster proposed to the Taos-based Mandelman–Ribak Foundation that a selection of works by artists Beatrice Mandelman (1912-98) and Louis Ribak (1902-79) be gifted to the permanent collection of the Harwood Museum.

Over the next 10 years a plan took shape that resulted in a gift not only of art works, but also an endowment by the Mandelman-Ribak Foundation to help care for, conserve and exhibit the collection, as well as funding a new gallery and exhibition lobby.

The $6.3 million facility, funded in part by the New Mexico State Legislature, private contributions and the University of New Mexico, adds the Mandelman-Ribak Gallery, a 1,150 square-foot exhibition space that honors the legacy two artists who arrived in Taos in 1944 and were central to the Taos Moderns movement.

On the same level, accessible through the connecting Robert M. Ellis and Caroline Lee Galley, is the Arthur Bell Auditorium, a 130-seat state-of-the-art facility that will enhance the museum's ability to present rich, dynamic public programs. The acoustically-adjustable, digitally-equipped space will make it possible to bring a wide array of film, music, lectures and performance to the community.

The expansion's lower two levels are devoted to the care and conservation of the 3,000 objects and 17,000 historical photographs comprising the museum's art and archival collections. The new storage area triples the museum's capacity and will be equipped with a compact art storage system and advanced climate control. The new collection work-study room and archive room will facilitate scholarly access to Taos' rich cultural history.

Susan Longhenry, the museum's new director, said that focusing on the stewardship of the collection is of primary importance in understanding the expansion. "Many of today's museum expansions focus on revenue centers like gift shops and restaurant, so it's important for our community to know just how much of our attention is going into the care and conservation of the collection," she said.

This is the institution's most ambitious renovation since 1997, when a $1.7 million expansion helped grow the museum from two galleries to seven, including the Agnes Martin Gallery, a hexagonal exhibition space that permanently displays a gift of seven paintings by the world-renowned Taos abstract expressionist.

Since 1924, when Lucy Harwood and friends presented the first exhibition, the Harwood has served as lending library, exhibition space and community meeting place. "For over eight decades the Harwood Museum of Art has been intertwined with the rich artistic and cultural fabric of Taos," Longhenry said. "Formed by artists and art lovers, the Harwood celebrates the creative and visionary spirit of our collective past, facilitates meaningful dialogue in our shared present, and channels that legacy of art, ideas and a profound sense of place into the future."

Important exhibitions in recent years included Agnes Martin, Francesco Clemente, Richard Diebenkorn, Wayne Thiebaud and Dennis Hopper.

The Harwood Museum is at 238 Ledoux Street, Taos. Call (575) 758-9826.