University of Maine Museum of Art director George Kinghorn (left) and Miami-based artist Jon Davis move one of Davis' pieces as they work on installing a new exhibit at the musueum in Bangor in 2016. Credit: Gabor Degre | BDN

A $1.3 million gift from two longtime University of Maine educators and administrators will see the University of Maine Museum of Art in Bangor nearly double in size over the next year.

Donald Zillman, a former president of the University of Maine at both Presque Isle and Fort Kent, a former interim provost of the UMaine system, and a former dean of Maine Law at the University of Southern Maine, and Linda Zillman, an art historian and curator, gave the University of Maine Foundation the sum last month. The donation to the museum was approved at the UMaine System of Board of Trustees meeting on March 16.

“The Zillmans’ vision and generosity have made a difference in Maine for many years,” said University of Maine President Joan Ferrini-Mundy. “This gift advances the museum’s mission and continued growth with improvements in its physical facilities. The result will be more experiences for visual art lovers of all ages.”

The gift will result in the museum being renamed the Linda G. and Donald N. Zillman Art Museum – University of Maine. Museum curator and executive director George Kinghorn said work will begin on the expansion as soon as it is safe for workers to start, given the current coronavirus pandemic.

The Zillmans, former Maine residents who now live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, said in a press release on Wednesday that they wanted to further improve access to the arts for all Mainers — especially young people — and the expansion will facilitate that.

“In addition to attracting Maine visitors, it welcomes art enthusiasts from around New England and eastern Canada. Many of these are young people making their first connection to the arts — visits that often begin a lifelong connection with art,” said the Zillmans. “Advancing UMMA requires improvements in physical facilities and support growth. We are excited about investing in its future.”

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The donation will go toward the construction and operation of five new galleries to showcase the museum’s collection of over 4,000 works of modern and contemporary art. A new, 21-year lease agreement for the Norumbega Hall building on Harlow Street, where the museum has been located since moving from Orono to Bangor in 2002, has been negotiated with Eastern Maine Development Corporation. It will increase the square footage of the museum’s public gallery space by 40 percent, bringing the total number of galleries to 12, and the total exhibition space to just over 4,700 square feet.

“When you enter the museum from the main entrance on Harlow Street, if you look to the right, that entire space will be our five new galleries,” said Kinghorn. “It will create visual connectivity between the lower and upper floors. It’s a major renovation that will open up the entire space. It will be light-filled and glassed in. When you come in, you will be immediately greeted by art.”

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Kinghorn said that when he moved to Maine from Florida 2008, some of the first people he met were the Zillmans, who were already staunch supporters of the museum, having both advocated for the moving of the museum from Orono to Bangor nearly 20 years ago. Over the years, the couple have made other important donations to the museum, including, most recently, the installation of a new sign on the Central Street entrance to the facility.

This gift, however, will allow the museum to be transformed into a major regional art institution.

“It’s a transformative gift that will propel the museum forward in terms of its stature in New England. Our physical facility will now be more in line with the quality of the programming we present. It’s a gift not just to the University, but to all the citizens of the region,” said Kinghorn. “It’s incredibly exciting, and it’s so nice to be able to share some good news with everyone at this particular time.”

The museum is currently closed to the public during the pandemic. Museum staff have produced virtual tours of the present exhibitions, which are viewable on the museum’s website and on Facebook.

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham

Emily Burnham is a Maine native and proud Bangorian, covering business, the arts, restaurants and the culture and history of the Bangor region.