Despite intermittent rain, lightning and an ear-splitting clap of thunder that sent kids scampering and peacocks squawking, scores of families and couples explored the Contemporary Austin, Laguna Gloria’s new and renewed attractions on Saturday.
Chief among the additions to the Betty and Edward Marcus Sculpture Garden is the sleek three-part Moody Pavilion that guides visitors onto lush grounds spread out over a peninsula that curves into Lake Austin. The three structures also offer refreshments from Épicerie, an outdoor colony of the French-American restaurant in Central Austin's Rosedale neighborhood; a mod, red-hued Shop at the Contemporary that doubles as a ticket booth; as well as much-needed 21st-century restrooms.
The project — made possible by a $3 million gift from the Moody Family Foundation, which has donated more than $100 million to Austin projects in the last few years — includes a reinvented gateway, sidewalks along West 35th Street and art installations that are instant kid magnets.
“I love coming here and enjoying the grounds,” said Fernanda Leite, originally from Brazil but a Central Texas resident for 10 years. She was sheltered, along with her 3-year-old daughter, Julia, from the rain by the extended pavilion roofs. “She loves it, too, and now we can order kids’ mac-and-cheese.”
“I saw the crying bunny,” said Portia Serrato, a first-time visitor to the gift shop, referring to Tom Sachs’ tearful “Miffy Fountain.” “He didn’t say anything.”
The opening of the pavilion completes the first stage of a multi-year Laguna Gloria project initiated by the transformative Executive Director and CEO Louis Grachos, who recently revealed that he will be leaving soon for the larger Palm Springs Art Museum.
You didn’t know Laguna Gloria — now open for longer hours — already charges up to $10 for entry?
“Almost nobody did,” said Contemporary Austin spokeswoman Nicole Chism Griffin. “They just wandered onto the grounds. Sometimes they’d stumble into the villa and pay.”
Visitors are still not always sure where they are.
Passing guest: “Where’s the gallery?”
Employee: “This is a sculpture park and we can show you that. We have an indoor gallery downtown.”
The Moody Family Foundation also boosted the Contemporary Austin, Jones Center on Congress Avenue.
“I love the gift shop,” said Sophie Piñeros, who attended Saturday’s public opening of the Moody Pavilion. “They sell things that you can’t buy just anywhere.”
The shop underwent a “soft opening” two weeks ago.
“The kids’ stuff is most popular,” said staff member Tanya Zal. “These puzzles of our sculptures, the little plastic coloring books and a game designed by our staff that explains our sculptures.”
The rain let up long enough Saturday for a few guests to gather in white tents behind donor Clara Driscoll’s 1916 Italianate style villa, now housing mostly museum offices where kids remained dry while playing with robotics.
“This is a fabulous resource for our city,” said Austin City Council Member Alison Alter, whose 10th District includes Laguna Gloria. “The Contemporary Austin has transformed this historic place into a true cultural destination.”
A steady rain returned as members of the Austin Girls Choir sang the Beatles' “Yellow Submarine” to a refrain of “blub, blub, blub.”
“We’ve never had a real way to welcome people,” said museum backer Richard Marcus, son of the late Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus retail fame. “They just come on the property and might or might not walk into the villa. We don’t know who they are. Now we can welcome them with some coffee and some shopping. It’s part of growing up.”
MORE MOODY FOUNDATION GIFTS TO AUSTIN
$50 million donation to UT a case of serendipity
Moody Foundation gives $20 million to Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art
$15 million grant to fund Waterloo Park makeover, new amphitheater
Moody Foundation gives $9.7 million to enhance Pease Park
Transcendent YMCA Party benefits Camp Moody
Contemporary's downtown museum gets new looks, space