Museum Sign, Already on Order, Gets New Hearing 

The people spoke. The politicians listened. And the state relented. But is it too late?

A new public hearing has been scheduled to discuss a tall electronic sign proposed for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, giving neighbors a chance to weigh in.

Trouble is, the sign has already been ordered. Its total cost? Between $100,000 and $150,000, museum spokeswoman Suzanne Hall says.

The museum had put the sign on the fast track, intending to install it in time for the upcoming Nigerian art exhibit, which opens Feb. 12, as well as the much-anticipated Picasso show, which begins Feb. 19. 

On Nov. 5, the museum obtained approval from the state Art and Architectural Review Board to install the 15-foot-high sign, which includes a 4-by-8-foot illuminated screen. Some neighbors were concerned about the sign's appearance and troubled by the speedy approval process. Because the Fan District Association was notified only a day before the review board meeting, its members had no time to meet and discuss the sign plans.

After the hearing, says Fan District Association President Barbara Hartung, the museum told the association that the sign was a go. But when state delegates and other political figures — such as former councilman Bill Pantele and political adviser Charlie Diradour — stepped in, that proved not to be the case.
Earlier this week, Virginia Secretary of Administration Lisa Hicks-Thomas spoke with state delegates Jennifer McClellan and Manoli Loupassi, whose districts include the Fan and Museum districts. (“A bipartisan effort,” Loupassi says.) Hicks-Thomas decided the community should be given a chance to comment on the project, says governor's office spokeswoman Taylor Thornley.

The new hearing is scheduled to be held in the museum's Reynolds Lecture Hall at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 11.

“I think it's a welcome move,” Hartung says. She intends to e-mail association members to make sure they know about the meeting.

The museum wasn't trying to be “nefarious,” Loupassi says. He spoke with Museum Director Alex Nyerges and explained that neighbors love the museum but just wanted the chance to be heard.

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