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Speed Art Museum Gets $1 Million For Free Sunday Admissions

The Speed Art Museum has received a $1 million donation to support free admission on Sundays for the next five years, it announced Tuesday.

The donation from the Louisville-based distiller Brown-Forman comes weeks before the Speed reopens after an extensive renovation project. Sundays will be known as "Owsley Sundays" at the Speed, in honor of the late chairman and CEO of Brown Forman, Owsley Brown II. The free Sundays will begin on March 20 of this year and run through March 2021.

Brown's widow, Christy Brown, was emotional as she spoke at a press conference today. She noted that the museum's founder, Hattie Bishop Speed, had wished for it to be free to the public.

"So I consider this a magnificent gift, but I consider it a beginning: a beginning of adventure, of opening more and more and more of this magnificent cultural haven to our entire public," Brown said.

Brown shared a message from her daughter, Brooke Barzun, an art curator and philanthropist who is on the museum's board and was influential in obtaining the gift. Barzun lives in London with her husband, Matthew Barzun, the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, and was not in attendance at Tuesday's announcement.

"This wonderful gift brings together so many things my father cared deeply about. Brown-Forman's commitment to Louisville's devotion to the arts, and art as the common ground of our shared human story, Owsley Sunday gives those ideas a name," said Brown, reading from Barzun's statement.

Ghislain d'Humieres, CEO of the Speed Museum, also thanked Barzun for her help in facilitating the gift, and noted that there is still room on the donor wall in the renovated museum's atrium.

"The people who gave for this building are going to be there, but I've got enough space for a hundred years, the whole 21st century, for any coming gift to be on that wall," d'Humieres said.

He noted that Sunday is typically a day for family activities, the reason that Sunday was selected to be free.

"I really cannot wait to see grandparents taking their grandchildren, having an activity in [children's area] ArtSparks, which has been redesigned for intergenerational activities, taking them around, being outside on the grass, having a picnic next to a new site-specific commission," said d'Humieres.

The Speed closed in May 2013 for the $60 million expansion and renovation that doubled the square footage of the original space. d'Humieres said the capital campaign is still in progress, but any additional money raised at this point will go toward supporting the museum's endowment. The endowment is at about $50 million, and d'Humieres said he's looking to raise an additional $50 million to ensure the museum's future.

It's set to reopen March 12, with a 30-hour celebration that will be free and open to the public. Regular admission for adults will be $12, while admission for children ages 4-17, seniors, and military will be $8. Children three and under will be free.