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Sloan Museum to incorporate Buick gallery cars as part of kid-friendly renovation

Published in blog.hemmings.com

Renderings courtesy Sloan Museum of Discovery.

Since establishing its Buick gallery 20 years ago, the Sloan*Longway Museum in Flint, Michigan, has kept the collection on its campus but in a separate facility. As part of the museum’s planned expansion and rebranding into the Sloan Museum of Discovery, however, at least a portion of those cars will make their way into the museum itself as part of a 10,000-square-foot Vehicle City Gallery.

The expansion, which broke ground last week, has been in the works for a few years, envisioned primarily to attract more kids to the museum. According to the museum’s Facebook page, “The new Sloan Museum of Discovery will provide opportunities for youth and families to explore permanent hands-on STEM exhibits, and to engage with local history through inclusive exhibits that present stories rooted in community.”

Totaling 42,000 square feet, the expansion pretty much doubles the existing museum’s footprint and will include a Discovery Hall for earth and physical sciences, an Early Childhood Gallery, First Peoples and Inclusive Stories historical exhibits, a Maker Lab, and the Vehicle City Gallery.

According to comments the museum’s executive director, Todd Slisher, made to MLive, the Sloan*Longway’s audience has mostly been children, so museum directors decided to refresh its exhibits – some of which had dated back 20 to 25 years – and expand the museum to cater to that audience. Of the 150,000 annual visitors to the museum, Slisher has said that 65,000 are school kids alone, and that more kids come with their families outside of school trips. That latter number is expected to balloon to 90,000 after the renovations are complete.

The Sloan*Longway, which opened as the Sloan Museum in November 1966 on Flint’s Cultural Center campus, added the automotive gallery dedicated to Buicks and other Flint-built cars in 1999, but housed the cars, automotive restoration facility, and the archives library in a building on the far end of the campus. The collection includes about 100 vehicles, among them the Buick Centurion, XP-300, and Wildcat II concept cars; a 1910 Buick Bug; and a 1944 Buick M-18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer.

As noted in the museum’s master plan, “The current vehicle gallery is offsite, and it suffers from a lack of visibility that is at odds with the significance of the artifacts displayed there. The construction of a dedicated gallery space within the main museum building highlights the prominence of these artifacts in our collection and will greatly increase their accessibility.”

The new automotive gallery in the museum itself will include a rotation of roughly two dozen vehicles from the remote gallery; a research area to take advantage of the archives; and exhibits on autonomous vehicles, fuel cells, and other advanced technology thanks to partnerships with GM and Kettering University.

The Sloan closed in December to make way for the renovation and temporarily moved its exhibits – including some of its automobiles – to the Courtland Center Mall in nearby Burton, Michigan.

In a press conference at the groundbreaking ceremony, Slisher noted that the entire renovation will cost $26.5 million, of which the museum has already raised $22.5 million via a mix of government funding, foundation contributions, and donations from businesses including GM. Museum officials hope to raise the remaining $4 million via crowdfunding and other individual donations. Memphis-based Haizlip Studio is serving as the architect for the renovation.

Construction is scheduled to begin July 1 and complete in time for the museum to re-open in 2021. For more information, visit SloanLongway.org.