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Friday, October 28, 2011 - 12:11pm

Art College Expands Museum

The Savannah College of Art and Design is unveiling what it calls its largest-ever urban renewal project.

The $26 million expansion of the SCAD Museum of Art will open to the public on Saturday.

Students, faculty and the press were invited on Thursday and Friday.

The SCAD Museum of Art is opening after three years of work at an abandoned Antebellum rail yard on Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.

SCAD is known for fixing up Savannah buildings, about 80, completely transforming the coastal city since its founding in 1978.

Museum director Sam Anderson says, the new art space continues in that tradition.

"The SCAD Museum of Art has literally risen from the ruins of the old Central of Georgia railroad complex that dates back to 1853," Anderson says. "And now we have this incredible new contemporary museum."

The museum houses the college's most important collections, including works of African-American and British art.

Its inaugural group of rotating exhibits includes works by Bill Viola, a pioneer in the field of video art, and Stephen Antonakos, whose work is innovative in its uses of neon.

Some of its more distinctive architecture details include an 86-foot tall steel and glass lantern, 3-D glow-in-the-dark wallpaper and modern galleries molded around original, slave-made brick ruins.

Museum architect Christian Sotille says, the museum's design builds on a historical foundation with a thoroughly modern aesthetic.

"The SCAD Museum of Art is more than a vision; It's a philosophy," Sotille says. "It was born of art and will inspire future generations of artists and designers."

College officials describe the museum as a "teaching museum."

Upstairs, students and faculty already were using classrooms and computer labs.

Signs on the classrooms indicate that a wide variety of SCAD's fields of study will take advantage of the museum, a point stressed by college president and co-founder Paula Wallace.

"The museum was designed with the students at the top of the mind," Wallace says. "It is a point of convergence."

The college's various fields of study are represented in the museum exhibits, from computer design and sequential art to fashion.

At the press event, a popular point of convergence appeared to be a touch-screen video table, described as the largest of its kind anywhere, that displayed college information interactively on what amounted to an iPad on steroids.

The museum will be free to the public on Saturday.