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Briscoe Museum Delays

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San Antonio was once a pioneer outpost that played a major role in the winning of the Wild West. And when the Briscoe Museum of Western Art opens, it will showcase the city and state’s pioneer roots from the days of sod busters, cattle drives and outlaws. But as Texas Public Radio’s Ryan Loyd reports, the management of the Briscoe Museum is over budget and unable to meet its grand opening deadline.

February 23, 2012 · IIt’s the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo… a magnet of cowboys and horses.
Boots shuffle across the pockets of mud and manure-caked cement.
The smell of livestock in the air is pungent.
And pigs are everywhere – from weighing just before judging… to the entertainment swine: the pig races, where Antoinette Gardner keeps her three kids within arm’s length.
She remembers her days as a kid at the rodeo – connecting the old west.
She hopes her children will feel the same way when they grow up.

“I don’t want them to forget about that kind of stuff. But I think this is a great place to bring it all back together,” said Gardner.

According to the rodeo, more than a million people visit these grounds every year.
It’s part of the western heritage of a city that was at the heart of settling the west.

But outside of the rodeo, San Antonio’s western heritage is mostly overshadowed by its unique connection to the Spanish colonial era and its role in Texas’ war for independence. Some city movers and shakers want to change that.

They’re betting that the establishment of the Briscoe Museum of Western Art in the heart of downtown will be a permanent way to highlight San Antonio’s significance in the taming of the Wild West.

“I think the Briscoe has an opportunity to play a role in helping people better understand components of western art, western history, and western culture, said Executive Director Dr. Steven Karr.

He’s been on the job four months and is expected to bring the project, which was initially slated to open in 2009, to fruition. Three other directors spent time in that role but left.

Karr says he wants to showcase an impressive western art collection in a building that used to house the old Hertzberg Circus Museum and the San Antonio Library at Market and Presa.
He says the museum will be a unique find among other museums in the area.

But so much has been promised with few results.
It’s why Dennis Elam, an assistant professor in the School of Business at Texas A&M San Antonio, criticizes the project.

“This is an example of a non-profit that lost its way on internal control. The original budget was $16 million. Then we got too many cooks in the kitchen and the budget grew to $30 million and the museum is still not open,” said Elam

Voters approved millions of dollars in the hotel-motel and car rental taxes to help build the Briscoe in the county’s 2008 bond. To even get the old library ready, nearly a million dollars from taxpayers is being poured into the building. Half of that is just to stabilize the old structure, built in 1930. And a brand new addition is going up just to the east of the old library called the Jack Guenther Pavilion, named after one of the museum’s founders.

Elam doubts taxpayer money is being spent wisely, and says nearly doubling the capital budget won’t make the final outcome any better. He says it’s unfortunate non-profits often want a space to call their own when places like the Institute of Texan Cultures could house a collection like the one planned for the Briscoe.

“In Texas of course, people want to do things bigger and better but one can look at, for example, the Sid Richardson Museum in downtown Ft. Worth. It has one of the better collections of Charles Russell and Frederic Remington paintings of the Old West. And it certainly is not, in a lavish, I mean it’s a very nice building, but it is not gigantic and it is not lavish, and it attracts over 50,000 visitors a year,” said Elam