Balboa Park's San Diego Museum of Art will unveil The Welcome Gallery to the public on Saturday, May 31, to coincide with the opening of Sorolla and America, an exhibition featuring paintings by Spanish painter Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida.
"It's a free public place where people can wander around, sit down, read and explore," says Sandra Benito, the museum's deputy director of education and public engagement, as she gives me a preview of the new space, which is accessible through SDMA's main entrance.
Benito and her education team walked me through The Welcome Gallery, showing off the hands-on exhibits. There's a looping video on the museum's Open Spaces project, which helps create public art in underserved neighborhoods like Lincoln Park. There's a replica of "Quince, Cabbage, Melon and Cucumber" by Juan Sánchez Cotán, the most famous piece in the museum's collection, which people are invited to touch and feel while listening to audio clips. And there are other interactive experiences, like the installation that invites people to explore what museum curators, registrars and educators do behind the scenes. That piece includes a BuzzFeed-like quiz that helps people find out which job they'd most enjoy.
The Welcome Gallery, Benito says, is meant to give folks a free glimpse of the museum, its permanent collection and the temporary shows (a documentary film on Sorolla, for example, will screen in part of the new gallery while the exhibit's on view). The idea, of course, is to get people to want to see more of the museum.
Architect James Brown of Public Architecture + Planning and the Bread & Salt alternative art space, helped SDMA build The Welcome Gallery. He restored the room to its original architecture and enlisted muralist Mario Torero, who painted a map on the ceiling, and furniture designer Jason Lane, whose sleek modern designs can be spotted throughout.