Grand public space opens this weekend at the Cleveland Museum of Art with the Ames Family Atrium

Key part of museum expansion joins the old and new

CLEVELAND - Get your party clothes on, and get ready to be impressed!

The Ames Family Atrium, the heart of the Cleveland Museum of Art's expansion project, officially opens to the public on Sunday. Stand back and watch jaws drop as people enter this magnificent space for the first time. It's something museum director David Franklin has been doing for several weeks now from his glass-walled office in the museum's new gallery. The atrium was quietly opened in late August.

"It's just extraordinary, we've been under construction since 2005, for it finally to be realized is just a dream come true for everyone," said Franklin. "And I applaud the patience of Clevelanders to have waited so long. But it's here, the atrium is finally open."

The atrium is nearly as big as a football field. Rafael Vinoly's soaring lines of glass and steel marry beautifully with the original 1916 building and a new glass, wood and metal gallery housing office areas. As the expansion is completed next year, all areas of the museum will be easily accessible from the atrium, making it the true heart of the physical space.

Despite its size, the atrium offers intimate spaces to sit and linger. Franklin sees it as a kind of Italian piazza, a place to meet friends, grab a cup of coffee, people watch.  Changing light pouring in from overhead shifts across the marble surfaces of the original building. A small bamboo grove is lined with benches, inviting you to stay awhile.

Said Franklin, "That's one of the things we're after. Come to the art museum to take you out of your daily life, surrounded by beautiful works of art, beautiful architecture, and you have a different feeling, almost sublime."

Franklin said the atrium is really a gift to the community, and it is one that -- like the museum's world class collections -- can be enjoyed for free.

The opening of the atrium coincides with the launch of the new Provenance restaurant and cafe. Cleveland chef Doug Katz of Shaker Square's Fire has created a multi-level dining experience for visitors. The menu will reflect its museum association. For the opening, special South American menu items tie in to the new exhibition "Wari: Lords of the Ancient Andes." It is the first exhibition of its kind in North America, showcasing 150 startlingly beautiful works of art, including textiles, ceramics and stonework.

On Sunday, the public is invited to the atrium's opening celebration. From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., there will be live music and dance from a variety of groups including Inca Son, and hands-on activities for children.

You'll find more information about the Wari exhibition and atrium events here. http://www.clevelandart.org

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