Major Austin arts philanthropists Sarah and Ernest Butler have donated $5 million to the Blanton Museum of Art to create a long-term outdoor space dedicated to sound art, the University of Texas museum announced today.
The Butler Sound Gallery will be situated in a park-like area on the north side of the museum’s Michener Gallery building and just to east of the Ellsworth Kelly’s “Austin” monument. It is part of the Blanton’s large-scale grounds revitalization which includes a mural commission by Cuban-American artist Carmen Herrera and the new Moody Patio that incorporates multiple performance spaces, all set to be completed in late 2022.
The outdoor gallery will open with a site-specific installation by composer and sound artist Bill Fontana (b. 1947) that incorporates recordings of Texas Hill Country wildlife and geological structures gathered over the course of four seasons. Fontana is interested in recording birds, bats, and other regional wildlife as well as exploring sounds associated with the special geological features of the region, including limestone caverns and aquifers.
The Fontana work will debut when the new grounds project finishes in late 2022 and is expected to remain installed for two years. The Butler’s gift includes an endowment for future sound art installations.
“As longtime museum members and members of the Blanton National Leadership Board, we have witnessed what a vital cultural resource the Blanton has become — and will continue to be — for our community,” said Ernest and Sarah Butler in a press statement. “We are proud to underwrite this innovative outdoor sound gallery at the museum and have it named in our honor.”
In the last decade, the Blanton has had an active program featuring sound art most notably with its acclaimed “SoundSpace” concert series, launched in 2010 and curated by award-winning artist and musician Steve Parker.
The Blanton has also partnered with UT’s Butler School of Music — so named for the $55 million donation the couple made in 2008 — to present live concerts in the galleries.