Raleigh, N.C. — After several years of construction, the North Carolina Museum of Art and its new addition will reopen to the public Saturday, but festivities kicked off Friday with a grand celebration.
About 800 people lined up for a members-only showing of the addition. CBS Early Show weather anchor Dave Price broadcast live from the event for a national audience, and a ribbon-cutting was held at 9:30 a.m.
"People are awestruck, really," said Caterri Woodrum, the museum's deputy director.
"When you go in, you feel like you've been somewhere, and that it's part of a big city," museum visitor Bee Brakebill said. "It feels like the real deal."
The museum’s new west building has 360 skylights, 40 galleries and five gardens surrounding 127,000 square feet. About half the building is made of glass.
“One of the core ideas from very early on was to make a place that was very transparent,” said Dan Gottlieb, director of planning and design for the renovation.
Tickets for the public opening this weekend were snapped up quickly. Late Friday afternoon, only about 200 tickets remained for a tour at 9 p.m. Saturday, and Sunday tours were sold out.
General admission is free, but timed tickets were being issued to keep the museum from becoming overcrowded at any one time, Woodrum said.
"If you show up, we will work you in. We are not going to turn anyone away this weekend," she said.
The museum grounds, showcasing sculptures by Auguste Rodin and other artists, and outdoor events, including numerous dance and musical performances, have unrestricted access and are also free.
Woodrum recommended the Rodin works as "must-see" elements. She added, "Almost every section of our collection has a new item."
Museum officials said the seven-month renovation was an effort to showcase the museum’s wide-ranging permanent collection, which spans 5,000 years of history.
“I think you get a sense that, all of a sudden, the works of art are the performers. They’re the stars of the show,” museum Director Larry Wheeler said.
The new building's design lets in sunshine in a way that designers say has never been seen in a museum, where art works typically are protected from light. The building has protective elements such as ultraviolet filters, louvers and three layers of curtains. Sensors tell shades to drop when the sunlight is too bright.
"Wonderful lighting. I think that was the thing I noticed most," museum visitors Gail and Ron Dellinger said. "(It's) a wonderful improvement over the old one. It really is wonderful."
The renovations, which also include a restaurant and shopping area, cost about $86.2 million, according to officials. The project received $73 million in public money.
"It's unheard of for a public investment of this magnitude to take place in the name of the arts in this country," Wheeler said.
Museum leaders' plans for the future aren't slowing. They have kicked off a campaign to raise $50 million from private donors by the end of 2013 and, so far, have gathered $26 million toward the goal. The funds will support the museum's endowments, programs, grounds and general operations.
"North Carolinians will look back on this important partnership and realize they were part of an unbelievable, transformative moment for the museum and our state," fund raising campaign chair Ken O'Herron said.