Our signature art museum is flagging.
Many people pinned many hopes on it, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that it’s gotten Roanoke a lot of publicity and spurred a small blizzard of art-gallery openings downtown.
But these days the museum’s visitors are rare as snowflakes in the summer. The museum has just undergone its fourth round of layoffs and Jenny Taubman, who raised a lot of the money for it, has waved goodbye to its board.
Now the media is sniffing around rumors it will be taken over by Virginia Tech, which already owns the Hotel Roanoke and the medical school building down on Reserve Avenue.
The whole idea of creating an ultra-modern museum that looks like a crash-landed flying saucer, and basing that around a collection of 19th century pursed-lipped portraits, always seemed kind of screwy.
But eventually, I came around because it appealed to my keen sense of the absurd.
I and my family have visited the place and we like it a lot. You should go, too, if you haven’t yet.
There’s something about the way art teases the senses and the soul. It can make a museum visit a profound experience.
For that reason it would be a shame if the Taubman shuts its doors. Nobody’s rooting for it to go under.
On the other hand, you know what Gen. (and later president) Dwight D. Eisenhower always said: “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
He meant you need to anticipate every eventuality. For that reason we should anticipate the Taubman’s closing and ask ourselves, “What would or should happen to that distinctive building?”
Allow me to kick off the brainstorming with some tongue-in-cheek ideas.
If the building is empty next fall, the Taubman would make a heck of a haunted house. It would rival Liberty University’s Scaremare — probably we would skip the evangelizing at the end, though.
In that setting the Thomas Eakins portraits could be very useful, assuming they were lighted properly. All of them have an old-world vampirish quality, you know? Even the women subjects look a little bit like Barnabas Collins.
But maybe it won’t be empty by then.
The Taubman Food Court could be up and running, and jammed with people and vendors such as “Burger in the UFO,” or “Big White Elephant Pizza.”
They could display the Thomas Aiken portraits in the newly refurbished City Market Building, a setting that’s a better match.
If. Gov. Bob McDonnell’s liquor privatization scheme goes through, the Taubman would be a great location for a booze bazaar. You could call it “Space Age Spirits.” I would invest in that, provided Spanky Macher didn’t tow customers’ cars.
Or perhaps they’ll sell the thing to Carilion, or the Rescue Mission, or the owners of Corned Beef & Co. — the three fastest-expanding enterprises in Roanoke.
The joint is so clean Carilion could use it for operating rooms. It would be the most futuristic surgery center in the nation. Health Facilities Management magazine would do a cover story for sure.
Or just maybe they will rename the whole place the Taubman Museum of the Absurd.
Can’t you imagine Mayor David Bowers cutting the ribbon on that one?
The building would be the primary exhibit, of course. But inside would be showcases for the new and improved Mill Mountain Incline and 4-star restaurant, Bev Fitzpatrick’s revamped electric trolleys, and a scale model of Larry Vander Maten’s Explore Park.
Every ridiculous idea that has come along in the last 20 years or so would get its own exhibit.
The movie “Field of Dreams” would play on a continuous loop at an exhibit titled “Build it and they will (not necessarily) come.”
Auto parts magnate Nick Taubman, who generously contributed millions toward the art museum’s construction, might even put up more money just to get his name taken off the thing.
I’m just sayin’.
What are your ideas, ranging from the ludicrous to the sublime?
Send them to me in e-mails with the subject line “Taubman” or by snail mail. You can also phone them in. Include your name and locality. Down the road we’ll review them in this space.
And don’t be shy about slamming me for slaying yet another Roanoke sacred cow.
Nobody else is.
Besides, the place already looks half dead.