Move brings treasures from the Biggs Museum of American Art in Dover out of hiding with more public resources planned.


The Biggs Museum of American Art is about to get 7,500 square feet bigger.

The museum is currently housed at 406 Federal St., across from Legislative Mall, and it’s not alone. The Delaware Visitor Center and Galleries occupies the first floor, and the Biggs has the second and third floors.

A new lease becomes effective Jan. 9, however, one that will make the space the Biggs Museum’s exclusively. The Visitor Center will move to the Delaware Public Archives building at 121 Duke of York St., just down the street from its current location.

This saves the state approximately $30,000 this year and $60,000 in future years, mostly from using less staff.

“This partnership gives the public greater access to a valuable museum while promoting economic development and creating cost savings,” Gov. Jack Markell said in a press release.

Room to grow

The state is the owner and landlord of the facility at 406 Federal St., and will remain so after the Visitor Center leaves. The state and Biggs Museum then will share the cost of renovating the space. According to a press release from the governor’s office, the one-time cost of improvements is estimated at approximately $100,000, a cost the state and museum will split.
Biggs Museum Director Linda Danko is anxious to start phase one of the project. Her vision is to unveil the first round of changes at the start of May, just in time for the annual Biggs Gala May 15.

The first phase of changes will start in early January, and include moving staff members from their offices on State Street into the museum. They’ll also be retrofitting spaces and bringing two galleries downstairs. What once was the Visitor Center’s information desk and store will be more open.

“What I envision is a lot of multi-use space,” Danko said. “We can entertain or hold parties or lectures or whatever.”

Visitors walking into the building and turning left will face a children’s area with a wall of windows so people can peek in on activities. The area will include plenty of windows that have been covered up since first being built.

More to see, more to do

Danko has been thinking of expansion since joining the Biggs Museum team six years ago, although serious talks about it started only six months ago. Before that she spent 17 years at the Winterthur Museum & Country Estate.

“I love small museums. I love having my hands in every sort of component,” Danko said.
The Biggs is bursting at the seams, so wanting to expand is natural, Danko said. As it stands, the museum has approximately one-third of its collection in storage and is continuing to acquire new items.

The physical renovations are just part of the overarching goal of making the museum more of a public resource. This includes the introduction of iPod tours, which should debut in January, the installation of a museum library and offering more programming. Danko stopped by a cookie decorating workshop recently and was asked for more hands-on programs, a recommendation the venue will be tackling.

“We never say no. We thrive on the challenge of saying yes ... and making it come to fruition,” she said.

With the Biggs expansion and the addition of the Visitor Center to the Archives building, the face of First State Heritage Park is changing.

“I think with all of the changes the general public will notice a new and engaging vibrancy,” Danko said. “We’re throwing our doors open wider.”

Secretary of State Jeffrey Bullock agrees.

“The Biggs expansion fits into the our overall plan to improve the state’s Heritage Park by making Dover more of a destination point for visitors interested in our historic and cultural attractions,” he said. “The First State Heritage Park Welcome Center and Galleries’ move to the Archives Building provides a better gateway for Delaware residents and tourists to understand all the great assets our state capital has to offer.”

Email Sarika Jagtiani at sarika.jagtiani@doverpost.com.