Building for the Future

View of the Worcester Art Museum Sailsbury Street facade, access bridge, and new Lancaster Street entrance

View of the Worcester Art Museum Sailsbury Street facade, access bridge, and new Lancaster Street entrance.

In 1896, a powerhouse group of philanthropists led by Stephen Salisbury III joined forces and resources to create an art museum for “the benefit of all.” Since then, the Worcester Art Museum has been a cornerstone of the Worcester community—the trusted caretaker of 38,000 objects, which span over five millennia of art and cultural heritage from across the globe. The Museum uses this exceptional collection to advance its mission “to connect people, communities, and cultures through the experience of art.”

It was nearly 125 years ago, when a brand-new Worcester Art Museum—a stately Classic Revival-style building designed by Stephen C. Earle—opened its doors for the first time. Less than 25 years later, the Museum had outgrown its original building, and the first of five major additions was constructed. Each addition provided more space to house the growing collection and to meet the community’s demand for public and educational art programming.

Today, the Museum is undertaking a new phase of renovations and improvements. These will address evolving 21st-century needs and expectations of the people we serve, building a state-of-the-art home for the renowned Higgins Armory Collection (acquired in 2014), and upgrading the facility and systems so WAM can steward the extraordinary collection in its care, serve its community, and achieve its mission for generations to come.

The Projects

The following projects, to be completed over the course of several years, address critical institutional, facility, and programmatic needs and goals.

Creating a greener WAM: Higgins Education Wing Window Replacement Project

Exterior view of newly updated windows in the Higgins Education Wing The 50-year-old windows and skylights in the Higgins Education Wing (HEW) are being replaced with new, energy efficient, thermal pane units to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, the new windows will make studio, public gathering, and office spaces more comfortable year-round.

Transforming the library for the 21st century: Library Relocation Project

Detail of a rendering of the new Library The Museum Library will be moved from its current location off Salisbury Hall to a new, custom-built space in the Higgins Education Wing. The new space will better accommodate visitors, improve both storage and access to Library collections, and make it possible to host a wider array of programs.

Building a new home for a beloved collection: Arms and Armor Gallery Project

Detail of a suit of armor from the Higgins Collection Currently in the design phase, 4,000 square feet of existing space is being converted into a permanent gallery installation dedicated to arms and armor. The state-of-the-art space will display the bulk of the 1,500-plus objects in the Higgins Armory Collection through an innovative design solution that allows visitors to see a large quantity of artwork in both traditional and non-traditional exhibition spaces.

Safeguarding the Museum and collections: Infrastructure Upgrade Projects

Architectural detail from the Museum exterior Over the course of several years, a range of physical improvements will be made to the Museum’s aging campus. These include building envelope repairs and restorations; mechanical, electrical, IT, environmental/energy HVAC, and fire protection system upgrades. The modern, energy efficient, and code-compliant systems and infrastructure will safeguard the Museum and its collections for generations to come.

Providing welcoming access for all visitors: Lancaster Plaza Project

View of the new Lancaster entrance steps Completed in December 2021, the new Lancaster Street entrance, designed by WHY Architects, includes an elegant new staircase with granite treads and a steel frame. A new elevator provides accessibility to all three floors of the Museum's Higgins Education Wing, including the Lancaster Welcome Center. With the completion of this important project, every WAM entrance is now fully accessible.