Decades in the Making: New UM Art Museum Opens to the Public

For H. Rafael Chacón, the Suzanne and Bruce Crocker Director of the MMAC, and longtime donor Suzanne Crocker the opening of the new museum was a dream years in the making. (UM photos by Tommy Martino.)

MISSOULA – For University of Montana alumna and longtime campus benefactor Suzanne Crocker, seeing the new Montana Museum of Art and Culture for the first time Wednesday was a vision many years in the making.

A Kalispell native, Crocker and late husband Bruce began providing significant gifts to support the museum in 2014. While waiting to tour the new facility with other MMAC building donors, she took in the art-filled lobby.

“I’m just so glad to finally see the collection out of storage so the public can see it and students can use it,” said Crocker, who traveled from her home in California for the opening. “There is so much of the collection that I actually have never seen.”

For her and H. Rafael Chacón, the Suzanne and Bruce Crocker Director of the MMAC, walking through the gallery spaces together was a particularly touching time. They have worked closely on this project, believing in the importance of a museum like this for the community as a whole.

“The new museum building will be transformative for the MMAC and the University,” said Chacón, who has led the institution since 2019 and spearheaded the long-awaited construction. “It’s an opportunity for the University to make this valuable resource available to the citizens of our state and visitors to the region.”

The facility, which is now open to the public, is the first permanent home for the MMAC, founded more than a century ago. The 17,000-square-foot building provides state-of-the-art storage and exhibition space for the MMAC’s 11,000-work collection – the oldest, largest and most comprehensive art holding in the state.

Photo of Rafael Chacon and Terry Payne
Chacón joined Terry Payne at the museum ribbon cutting. Payne and his wife, Patt, contributed $12.5 million to the museum project. 

The new facility was made possible by the generosity of many donors who gifted and pledged more than $15 million to the UM Foundation for the project, including a contribution of $12.5 million from longtime UM donors Patt and Terry Payne.

"My wife, Patt, was clearly the inspiration for our giving to help this beautiful museum come to fruition,” Terry Payne said. “To have a home for the wonderful art collection of the University of Montana is her dream come true. We are blessed to be able to help release the art collection from the basements of UM buildings into the extraordinary Montana Museum of Art and Culture for all to experience and enjoy."

The new building allows the museum to transfer thousands of important works of art from storage to display for public enjoyment, study and research.

“Whenever I talk about the new museum, I emphasize that this is ultimately a teaching facility,” said Chacón. “Not just for UM students, but for all groups and citizens. It’s a place where all Montanans can come and nurture their understanding and appreciation for the arts.”

Located across from the UM Fitness and Recreation Center on the north side of campus, the MMAC building will be the “centerpiece of the expansion of the University’s beloved Memorial Row and a part of the largest infrastructure renewal in the University’s history,” said UM President Seth Bodnar.  

“Private philanthropy like that provided by the Paynes has been key to the growth we are now seeing across campus,” Bodnar said. “So, too, is the longtime commitment of the community and the College of the Arts and Media for bringing this museum to fruition and ensuring the museum’s vast and storied collection will finally be accessible and on display.”

The MMAC’s deep connection to UM’s art alumni and faculty and the Missoula community is reflected in the art on display for the opening exhibit. These include works by Dana Boussard – a 2023 CAM Distinguished Alumna – Aden Arnold, Rudy Autio, Jim Dew, Nancy Erickson, Stephanie Frostad, Walter Hook and James Todd.

A ceramic mural by noted artist Paul Lewing also is a permanent feature of the building’s exterior.

Before the tour began and the ribbon was cut, Crocker reflected on what it was like to see the museum in full display, particularly as someone with deep ties to UM and her home state.  

“I just wish Bruce was here to see this. This was definitely a dream of both of ours,” she said before adding with a smile: “But I’m the one from Montana.”

The MMAC is open noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Griz Football home game days. For more information, call 406-243-2019. 

While lead donors enabled this new beginning for the physical building, further private financial support is needed to realize the full vision for the museum. Additional private gifts to the UM Foundation in support of the MMAC will help the museum leverage the new space for research, education and programming to benefit users.

For more information about giving to support the MMAC, email Kia Liszak, director of development for the College of the Arts and Media, at


Video: MMAC Director H. Rafael Chacón talks about the significance of UM’s new museum and its extensive collection.

Contact: Dave Kuntz, UM director of strategic communications, 406-243-5659,