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25 Years of MGAC: Building Cultural Landmarks and Legacies

MGAC was founded in 1996 with three goals: to do the most interesting and challenging work, to have fun working together, and to build a successful business in the process. Twenty-five years later, we have met these goals and more. At this milestone moment, we thought it would be fun to look back at some of our most memorable projects—our favorite missions made real. Today, join us as we revisit the growth of our Cultural Sector.

MGAC’s work in the cultural sector exists as an indisputable answer to the question of why we do what we do. Over the past few decades, we have had the opportunity to set the stage for awe-inspiring performances, house world-class works of art, create monuments to moments in history, and give communities around the world access to meaningful cultural experiences for years to come. This is work that pulls on your heartstrings, inspires and hinges on creativity, and, above all, endures.

In many ways, the seeds of this sector were sown with MGAC’s very first project working on the Discovery Channel Stores. Part retail shop, part immersive museum experience (down to an egg-shaped elevator, T-Rex skeleton, part of a WWII bomber, and a 270-degree high-definition movie theater), they were dreamt up by a client with a staunch dedication to conservation and education.

Flash-forward 25 years and, today, our cultural sector brings inspiring experiences to life for clients that span public agencies to non-profit associations to for-profit entities and on projects that encompass ground-up construction, renovations, additions, expansions, historic preservation, exhibit fabrication, and art installations for performance facilities, museums, themed entertainment venues, and civic spaces.


Cultural institutions offer local community members access to contemplative, creative, and educational spaces. They represent an opportunity to learn about, connect with, and immerse ourselves in the diverse and dynamic world around us.

One of the most challenging—and rewarding—examples of this was Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. MGAC served as the onsite exhibit coordinator for the project, managing and delivering 12 themed exhibits across the museum’s 85,000 SF of exhibit space. At $46M, it was the largest ever exhibit fabrication contract in North America. Our team immediately felt the weight of this legacy project. It was a long-overdue institution with the capacity to move the community, the country, and even the world. That understanding unified the project team and fueled us to deliver on a once-in-a-lifetime, incredibly high-profile project. The museum would go on to be named one of the best things America built in 2016.

Beyond accolades, what really inspires our work in this space is the knowledge that a project close-out or ribbon cutting is hardly the end; rather, it’s just the beginning. In North Bethesda, MD, we had the privilege of renovating and growing the 195,000 SF Music Center at Strathmore. As the cultural heart of Montgomery County, the center hosts performances and educational programs that are attended by 125,000 people each year. It’s incredible to consider the cultural influence a single venue like this will have across its lifetime. When we worked on Queen’s University’s Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston, Canada, we knew it too represented so much more than a performance hall. The $63M facility serves as an invaluable teaching, rehearsal, and performance space and a true cultural landmark for the campus and surrounding community. Every detail of the build, every decision that was made, was done to ensure that this opportunity was realized, and we navigated extreme winter weather, large-scale logistical challenges, and a true race to the finish to raise the curtain in time for a new school year. While consulting for a stone façade restoration project at the National Gallery Of Art, we did so knowing it would safely and cost-effectively preserve the building’s legacy. We helped solve extraordinary problems for that custom repair work to be done with minimal disruptions to the museum allowing it to continue to seamlessly serve the nation and invite art lovers to experience the collection of more than 150,000 paintings, sculptures, decorative arts, photographs, prints, and drawings.

In the case of our decade-plus engagement with CBS News’s Washington Bureau, from which CBS Evening News, 60 Minutes, and Face the Nation are produced, we have helped support CBS’ timeless mission of delivering the nation its news. Reinforced with extensive unseen security measures, the facility is designed to provide primary backup to the CBS’ New York broadcast center.


Our cultural projects are underscored by a client’s desire to tell a story, share an experience, or engage the community in a meaningful way. These missions are not just about the bottom line; they are about an emotional commitment to the project. In some cases, our work is truly carrying out a client’s legacy.

We were honored and humbled by the call to work on the 9/11 Pentagon Memorial Visitor Education Center in Arlington, VA. The memorial was completed in 2008 as a tribute to the 184 individuals who lost their lives during the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Now in planning is the Visitor Education Center to compliment the memorial and share this story of our nation’s bravest day with the rest of the country. Through our work on the Military Women’s Memorial, we have had the opportunity to renovate the 30-year-old memorial museum, prepare new exhibits honoring brave women who have served throughout history, and bring new life to the only historical repository documenting all military women’s Armed Forces service in the United States.

In some cases, we have quite literally helped bring a dream to life, carrying a project so far from initial vision through the planning phases and supporting the fundraising efforts. Such was the case when the OSS Society Inc. asked MGAC to serve as Owner’s Representative on the planned $89M National Museum of Intelligence and Special Operations. Our team oversaw lease negotiations and execution, procurement and assembly of an exhibit design team, and assisted with the development of fundraising materials and tight-lipped donor meetings.


Over the years, we have been trusted to work on behalf of and beside several working artists with public art commissions. Since 2005, we have worked with internationally acclaimed sculptor Kendall Buster, providing project management for the commissioning and installation of large-scale permanent artworks from Tulsa, OK, to Rabat, Morocco.

For our cultural team, no two days look alike, and sometimes this work comes to life in surprising and unexpected forms. Take Outflow, a public-artwork-meets-environmental-education-tool, which our project managers helped bring to life for the City of Calgary, Canada. We transformed a segment of the City’s stormwater drainage into an inverted mountain—a massive sculpture designed by artist Brian Tolle—to allow residents to watch how stormwater travels from communities to the natural watershed. We worked on behalf of Tolle for six years, navigating the intricacies and challenges associated with integrating large-scale art into an active public drainage system.

Currently MGAC is working on behalf of Hank Willis Thomas to manage two important public commissioned sculptures in the Boston Common, and at O’Hare International Airport. The Embrace is a new monument planned to honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King, in a new type of memorial in the U.S., actually commissioned before the increased debate over public memorials. By highlighting the act of embrace, this memorial shifts the emphasis from singular hero worship to collective action, imploring those curious enough to investigate closer. This monument will call people into the act of empathy, an idea Coretta Scott King captured when she spoke about the power and accessibility of unconditional love. When embraced, this love impels people to go into their community, take risks, and change others’ lives for the better.


By their very nature, our cultural projects involve some of MGAC’s most storied challenges. From transplanting massive trees to bringing an Aston Martin through a historic building’s window to its new home in a museum exhibit, this exciting, ever-changing work has a running theme: If there is something inspired or imaginative that needs to get done, we will find a way.

Sometimes the challenges are physical feats, like the time we transplanted a dozen 100,000-pound mature trees with 30-foot root balls as part of landscape design for Glenstone, an exhibition from one of the most important private collections of post-World War II artwork, or when we facilitated hanging a 450-foot by 90-foot, $9M stainless steel woven and welded tapestry at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial in Washington, DC. Other times, those challenges take a slightly less tangible form. Our work delivering the new embassy House of Sweden meant successfully navigating the nuances of a different culture (and a client based across the ocean) while managing the resolution of lingering financial disputes, water penetration issues, and improperly built details. In the end, it proved a rich experience for our team to not only deliver a successful project—and establish an ongoing relationship with the client—but to learn more about the world through another perspective in the process.

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