ALBANY, Ga. -- On Thursday, Jane Willson stood in front of the Albany Museum of Art, holding a shovel and ready to toss dirt on the site that will soon bear her name.
The Jane and Harry Willson Auditorium will be a shining addition to the museum, which is beginning its 30th year in a big way.
"Jane and the late Harry Willson have been committed to supporting the work of our museum for decades," Interim Director Karen Kemp said Thursday. "Without the steadfast generosity of supporters like the Willsons, a collection of 2,100 pieces of artwork in a nationally accredited museum would not be available to our community."
Willson, the head of Sunnyland Farms and a titan in local philanthropic circles, is known for giving millions to educational and artistic institutions across the country.
Standing to address board members, museum supporters and the media Thursday, Willson expressed excitement over the museum's expansion opportunities.
"It is going to be connected to a new building eventually, but it's nice to be able to renovate the old one and I'm proud to be a part of it," Willson said. "It's always a lot better to give than to get; maybe not better, but definately more satisfying."
The new auditorium will take about four months to build -- a period that will require closing the galleries at the museum, AMA spokesperson Cristin Kirbo said.
The museum will re-open with Rob Matre's exhibit on May 3, she says.
Atlanta-based architecture firm MSTSD designed the project and Albany-based LRA Constructors was selected to carry out plans for the renovation construction and the expansion, which includes a catering kitchen adjacent to the auditorium.
"The space promises to deliver an enhanced visitor experience, a much-needed venue for private and corporate events, and, most importantly, additional space to present artwork to our community," Merritt Giles, curator of art, said.
Designers plan for the auditorium to be a multi-use facility, equally handling large galleries, large meetings, dinner parties and other events.
The museum has already started taking reservations for the space, Kirbo said.
The price tag for the project wasn't revealed Thursday, although Kirbo did say that the money was raised through private donations.