(Robert Faires, Austin Chronicle) Cue the wedding bells. They sealed the deal – “they” being the boards of Arthouse and the Austin Museum of Art, who, after months of exploratory talks about merging the two visual-arts institutions, voted on Nov. 1 to get hitched. What the new museum will be named is as yet undecided – the public announcement mentions a “thoughtful re-branding process” in the coming months – but maybe they’ll consider the Texas Fine Arts Association since that was the name Arthouse went by for 91 years before its 2002 rechristening and it was from that entity that AMOA, or Laguna Gloria Art Museum, as it was originally known, emerged in 1961. Indeed, this reunification of the split entities makes their half-century apart essentially the world’s longest trial separation.
The reasoning for the union boils down to money and real estate. Arthouse has the latter, a newly renovated prime chunk of Downtown property at Seventh and Congress; AMOA has the former, a $21.75 million windfall from the sale of the block where it had planned for 30 years to build its own permanent Downtown home. Arthouse gets the cash to both pay off its reported $3.2 million debt from the renovation and keep the remodeled space running (thanks to a $15 million operating endowment), and AMOA gets that permanent Downtown address it’s desired for so long. What this means for art – which features prominently in the names of both institutions, after all – isn’t clear. The announcement doesn’t speak to how the two museums will fuse their varying missions – AMOA’s local focus vs. Arthouse’s statewide reach; the emphasis on current, innovative contemporary art at Arthouse vs. AMOA’s broader interest in art of the past century – or what happens to such institutional traditions as the Arthouse Texas Prize or the triennial “New Art in Austin” exhibition.