The Randall Junior High School building is undergoing a $20 million renovation as it becomes the new site for Rubell Museum DC, which will open its doors to the public on October 29.
The classrooms and auditorium that have been converted to galleries will house contemporary art pieces owned by Don and Mera Rubell. While the Rubells become Washington’s newest museum owners, this wouldn’t be their first time to operate a museum. Since 1993, the couple have been operating a museum in Miami.
Getting candid during their interview with Washington Post, the Rubells shared:
“Contemporary art is a catalyst for serious conversation,” Don said, noting that artists grapple with the most pressing issues of the day, including race, immigration, violence and identity. Where better to have these conversations than in the shadow of the Capitol, he added.
“Contemporary art is profoundly relevant to people’s lives,” Mera added. “It’s not like we’re going to teach people about art, okay? We are blown away by the art. We’ve been committed to buying it, we’re committed to caring for it. But I would say the greatest learning we get is from the public that comes to see it.”
Consulting with their son, Jason, Rubell Museum Director Juan Valadez and Caitlin Berry, newly appointed as Rubell Museum DC’s director, the Rubells are selecting pieces from their collection that explore social and political issues, and many will be on public view for the first time.
The school setting is a significant theme, Mera noted. She was a Head Start teacher in New York City and Don was in medical school when they started collecting art. She says a professor at Duke, where son Jason earned his degree in art history, played a role in their decision to share their collection with the public. Now 53, Jason had amassed his own art collection — starting at age 12 with money from his teenage job stringing tennis rackets — which he merged with his parents’ larger holdings to create the Rubell Family Collection. Daughter Jennifer, 51, is an artist based in New York who shares her eye and expertise, too.
“Contemporary art can really change lives, especially teenagers’, because art has this extraordinary way of giving you a vision of possibilities,” Mera said. “Art changed our lives. If we’re successful, art might change other people’s lives.”