By Ed Allen
Rex Staley, chairman of Sun City Bank, is credited with the idea of an art museum for Sun City.
He was one of the founders of the Phoenix Art Museum and, along with a group of art-loving residents, persuaded it to establish a satellite museum in Sun City that would display artwork borrowed from its parent organization in Phoenix. .
The first Sun City branch exhibit space included the walls of Staley’s Sun City Bank at North 105th and West Grand Avenues in 1976. Later that year, the branch museum moved to a vacant wing from the Merrill Lynch building to North 98th Avenue and West Bell. Road – the first of several moves over the next eight years. For its first major exhibition in November 1976, museum volunteers borrowed original works of art belonging to Sun City residents.
The Sun City branch separated from the Phoenix Group in 1980 and began raising funds for a permanent facility. Five years later, the museum had 2,000 members and Del Webb Development Corp. offered them plenty on North 111th Avenue and West Thunderbird Boulevard, where the Hearthstone Care Center is located. Plans were in the works when news broke that Arizona State University was planning a satellite campus for higher education at North 115th Avenue and West Bell Road and would host the museum as a neighbor. DEVCO traded land for larger land on North 115th Avenue north of West Bell Road in Surprise, just on the western border of Sun City. ASU would have occupied the land between West Bell Road and the museum.
The Sun City Art Museum opened in March 1985, and although the ASU campus never materialized, the museum grew in membership from the Sun Cities, as well as the entire surrounding region. It was no longer an annex museum, but an art museum in its own right.
The museum has grown in popularity by providing the surrounding community with programs for children and special events for adults. Major additions took place in 1987 and 1996, with all construction of the museum funded by private donations.
Upon entering the museum, visitors enter a large foyer leading to a central gallery. Behind it was a small tea room. To the right was another gallery plus a second larger hall for performances, classes or exhibitions. To the left of the visitors’ entrance were a gift shop, library, small gallery, offices, and work and storage space.
The museum’s collection has grown to some 2,000 pieces, including an early collection of ethnic clothing, represented by 158 costumes from 60 countries.
Out of respect for the many citizens of the sun who had supported the museum through donations and volunteering, there was great reluctance to change its name. But as the surrounding area grew and to make it clear that the museum was for everyone, the name was changed to West Valley Art Museum in 1998.
Expenses began to exceed revenue in 2001. The subsequent economic downturn, along with a drop in memberships, the deaths of several major donors, and the failure of the costly conversion of the tea room into a full-service restaurant profitable have caused the museum to fall behind. in its loan repayments. As a result, the bank repaid the $500,000 debt. The building should be sold.
As important as paying off the debt was the preservation of the 4,000-piece art collection, valued at $3 million. The art had to be carefully controlled, and there was a strong desire to keep the collection together. Surprise officials offered the space vacated by Heard Museum West, but the space was too small and the museum lacked the operating funds that would be needed.
Peoria had begun to revamp its aging downtown. A Performing Arts Theater was built and the City Council approved gallery space in the renovated City Hall, 8401 W. Monroe St. This would provide space for nearly the entire museum collection, meeting the objective of keeping it as intact as possible.
The new West Valley Art Museum officially opened in Peoria in 2011. After the move was completed, the old museum building was acquired by the Salvation Army.
A reminder of the past is the name of the street built to facilitate access to the museum – Avenue des Arts.
Editor’s Note: Historian Ed Allen volunteers for the Del Webb Sun Cities Museum, 10801 W. Oakmont Drive, Sun City.