The Witte Museum’s new Mays Family Center is open for business, education and cultural enrichment.
Mays family members, local business and political officials and supporters of the Witte gathered at the museum on April 12 to celebrate the opening of the 17,000-square-foot stand-alone center. The facility will accommodate major traveling exhibits and special events.
With impressive views of Broadway and the San Antonio River, the Mays Family Center positions the Witte both as a unique events venue and as an anchor along the Broadway corridor, which is experiencing a cultural renaissance.
“I’ve been waiting so long for this day,” Witte President/CEO Marise McDermott said at the museum’s annual Trailblazers luncheon inside the Mays Family Center April 12.
More than 500 people in the 800-capacity building enjoyed the luncheon. A 30-foot-wide Porfirio Salinas mural adorns one interior wall of the structure.
McDermott accompanied a reporter on a tour of the Mays Family Center in early April, as construction workers applied the final touches. She said the new facility complements other cultural/educational and artistic institutions in central San Antonio and other new and expanded venues for events citywide.
“And why wouldn’t (visitors) want to be by this river? How many cities can say that? They want to be in a place where they can do this,” McDermott said at the tour. She’s also excited the new center allows the museum to better accommodate larger groups of visiting school students.
The Mays Family Foundation helped to support development of the new center through matching private and public funds. The $15 million center was built atop the Acequia Madre de Valero, an 18th century rock and clay-lined irrigation canal formed by Spanish settlers and Texas Indians.
A re-creation of the historic diversion dam will be built in the new Zachry Family Acequia Gardens, positioned along the river banks near the new center, to accommodate various events. But anyone will be able to access and enjoy the gardens.
“We’re celebrating the assets that the city has to offer in a wonderful urban, pastoral environment. We present a layered history,” McDermott added.
At the April 12 ribbon cutting, District 2 City Councilman Alan Warrick and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff expressed appreciation for the new and expanded cultural and artistic offerings along Broadway, such as the DoSeum and the Tobin Center for the Performing Arts.
“We’re making sure this is not just the Decade of Downtown, but the Decade of District 2,” added Warrick. Wolff said the Witte is doing well in integrating the river’s history into the new center. “The river is an integral part of it. It’s where it all started,” Wolff added, referring to San Antonio’s origins.
Kathy Mays Johnson, daughter of Peggy and Lowry Mays, said the new center demonstrates that their family and the Witte are committed to enriching and educating the community. “I’ve often heard that all a child needs is a hand to hold, a heart to care and a place to inspire. This place is an inspiration,” she said.
A large traveling exhibit, Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, opens May 14 as the Mays Family Center’s first exhibit. It is the exhibit’s first visit to Texas and will be the biggest to date for the Witte.
Visitors will be able to learn how the Maya built their tall temples and created their intricate calendar system. Visitors can also take part in hands-on activities, such as building an arch, deciphering hieroglyphics and learning drilling techniques.
Archaeologist David Stuart spoke at the Trailblazers luncheon about his study of ancient Mesoamerica. He said the Maya exhibit at the Witte will be something to behold.
“It will have some of the greatest masterpieces of Mayan art and artifacts. We’re in a special time of discovery,” he added..
About a year from now, the Witte will finish its overall $100 million transformation with the opening of the H-E-B Lantern and Valero Great Hall, featuring permanent galleries and more event space. Upon total project completion, the Witte will have added more than 100,000 square feet.
The Mays Family Center features 17,000 square feet of flexible event and major exhibit space, and can seat up to 800 people. A 30-foot-wide mural painted by Porfirio Salinas is visible in the background.
The Mays Family Center’s event and educational capabilities reach out to the nearby acequia garden space.