By Kathy Samudovsky
A 6-year-old dog named Mr. Buddy Walker doesn’t realize he’s a canine ambassador at Westmoreland @rt 30 in Unity, the temporary location of the Westmoreland Museum of American Art during its $20 million renovation.His owner, Doug Evans, the museum’s collections manager, has been taking Buddy to work daily since 2013. The miniature pinscher-Jack Russell terrier mix attends staff meetings, people-watches from a sunlit window in the gift shop, and occasionally wanders freely through the art gallery to visitors’ delight.Buddy was allowed to come to work with his owner because the museum’s temporary location made it impossible for Mr. Evans to continue to walk home during lunch breaks to check on the dog, and soon three more staffers in similar situations brought in their dogs, said Judith O’Toole. She is the museum’s director and CEO whose position was recently renamed The Richard M. Scaife Director/ CEO to honor Mr. Scaife’s contributions to the museum.Ms. O’Toole believes the pooches’ presence indicates to visitors that the museum “is serious about being more welcoming and open to new ideas,” especially while in the home stretch of its two-year overhaul, she said.“We want to change the atmosphere of what it’s like to visit a museum, to try to get rid of the stuffiness, whispering and tip-toeing around — and the dogs just really say it,” she said.On Monday, Westmoreland @rt 30 will permanently close to the public so that staff can start the move back to the museum’s renovated location at 221 N. Main St. in Greensburg.The move will occur in stages over the next three months, Ms. O’Toole said.“We couldn’t ensure a very good public experience during that time, so we thought rather than disappoint people, we’d just ‘go dark’ until we get settled,’’ she said.Before the temporary location closes, the gift shop at Westmoreland @rt 30, 4764 State Route 30, is holding a sale 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Sunday. All products are American-made, including works by regional jewelers, woodworkers and ceramicists.The overhauled museum will be nothing short of breathtaking, Ms. O’Toole said.A two-day reopening celebration is planned for Oct. 24-25 at the museum. The event, called “The Sky’s the Limit,” will include cocktails from 6 to 7:30 p.m. and dancing from 7:30 to 11 p.m. Oct. 24. For tickets and details: 724-837-1500 or www.wmuseumaa.org. A free community day is set from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 25.The renovation and expansion is part of a five-year, $38 million capital and endowment campaign that began in 2011, Ms. O’Toole said. The four-story building was completely renovated and a 13,500-square-foot East Wing was added.“This is the largest undertaking of the museum ever,” she said.The museum, which opened in 1959, underwent partial renovations in 1968 and 1999.“What drove the current campaign was the need for more space and a strong desire to transform the building to be more transparent, inviting and look like a museum rather than a government building,” Ms. O’Toole said.At the end of this month, crews will start moving the more than 3,500 works of art into the renovated second-floor galleries and fine arts storage area, she said. The temporary location should be empty shortly after all staff move into the West Wing in mid-August.Much of the exterior work on the building is not finished, and site development and landscaping will be completed closer to the reopening date. Work on the new East Wing is still underway.Smoking no longer will be permitted on museum grounds because the East Wing will be a LEED-certified gold building.Buddy and his fellow canine ambassadors will be allowed in the renovated museum, but the dogs will be confined to staff quarters with occasional appearances in visitor areas. The museum does not permit visitors to bring pets.The dogs contribute to reducing employee stress, Ms. O’Toole said.“Buddy loves people,” Mr. Evans said. “He loves it when school children tour, and special needs visitors just light up when he greets them.”Yearly, the museum draws nearly 25,000 visitors. The hope is to increase those numbers by reopening with significant new collections, including those with works dated after 1950, Ms. O’Toole said.New exhibits will include a regional, 200-piece fraktur — a form of folk art — collection from David Brocklebank of Ligonier and his late wife, Joy.Kathy Samudovsky, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.