When visitors step inside the newly reopened Bellevue Arts Museum this weekend, they'll be greeted by a very different space than the one...

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When visitors step inside the newly reopened Bellevue Arts Museum this weekend, they’ll be greeted by a very different space than the one shuttered by a financial crisis nearly two years ago.

Four exhibits echo the museum’s revived focus on craft and design. A new floor plan and interior gallery changes give the modern building a softer feel. And the ground floor’s large-scale installations and redesigned cafe aim to entice passers-by and integrate the museum with the evolving pedestrian hub just outside.

Directors say the changes signal a new era of stability and prosperity. And the opening comes just in time to complement a flurry of redevelopment in downtown Bellevue.

“Today we start to reveal what has been invisible for a number of years,” Executive Director Michael Monroe said, referring to the intense behind-the-scenes work that he and dozens of volunteers and staff undertook to raise money, secure exhibits and regain the trust of the arts community.

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When the museum closed in September 2003, it was running out of money and faced low attendance and accusations of poor management after moving to the new $23 million building in 2001. While patrons waited, many impatient and some angry, the organization’s board, staff and volunteers built a new business plan and raised the $3 million necessary to reopen the building and run it for one year.

Yesterday during an early press tour, board treasurer Frank Statkus said the museum was in “a very healthy financial situation.” Some reserves are in place, and fund-raising will continue, he said.

Under a new formula, 60 percent of revenue will come from contributions, and 40 percent from earnings, including museum admissions. The standard approach is different from what the museum was using before.

Bellevue Arts Museum

510 Bellevue Way N.E., 425-519-0770, www.bellevuearts.org

Opens Saturday, with free admission this weekend

Hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; Friday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; closed Monday

Admission: $7 adults, $5 seniors, free for children 6 and under

Exhibits: The Artful Teapot: 20th Century Expression from the Kamm Collection, June 18-Oct. 2

The Artist Responds: Albert Paley and Art Nouveau, June 18-Sept. 25

Taking Shape: Pilchuck Glass School in the ’70s, June 18-Jan. 29, 2006

TEAlicious: A Global Infusion, June 18-Sept. 18

The museum is also working toward setting up an endowment, said Angela Sutter, board president. “We are always thinking about sustainability, and an endowment is a milestone we will achieve. We are very confident in that,” she said.

The museum’s focus this week, however, is strictly on art.

And visitors will find a range of things to see inside the remodeled building.

On the top floor, “The Artful Teapot” features 250 fanciful teapots created from a wide range of materials; visitors can learn more about the global art of the tea ceremony by wandering through the adjacent “TEAlicious.”

On the second floor, “The Artist Responds” displays the work and inspirations of iron artist Albert Paley.

A variety of glasswork, much of it from private Bellevue collections, is installed in the permanent Pilchuck Glass School Gallery, where visitors also can learn about the humble 1970s roots of the school.

Admission, which was raised from $6 to $7, is on par with other major area museums.

During its renovation, the museum installed a new lighting system to better display objects, carpet to soften the feel of the galleries, and other interior changes geared toward making spaces more intimate.

The ground floor, which opens up onto bustling Bellevue Way and sits next to the future Lincoln Square tower, features Northwest craft artists, including a soaring new Dale Chihuly glass sculpture. The ground floor, which includes a gift shop and The Museum Cafe, is open to all without an admission fee.

“It acts as a way to entice people into the museum,” Monroe said.

Museum directors have high hopes for the cafe, which was remodeled and will host a regular weekend jazz program.

The museum’s long-awaited opening Saturday comes after two false starts, one last summer and another in October, because of lack of funding.

Since then, Monroe, who started in July and is a former curator-in-charge at the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s Renwick Gallery, has been working to repair relationships and attract new donors.

The museum has returned to its roots, moving away from its spotlight on contemporary art and renewing its commitment to craft and design — the focus of the original museum and the associated annual Bellevue Arts & Crafts Fair.

Directors say they think the change will help boost attendance.

“We have an institution that will be nationally and internationally known as a center for craft and design,” Sutter said.

Monroe added, “This (crafts focus) is a real niche here, in this part of the country.” He said he’s been approached by other museums and collection owners around the country interested in showing their exhibits.

The museum’s new curator, Stefano Catalani, said yesterday that he wants the museum to be able to create and organize its own exhibits, rather than hosting existing ones.

Monroe hinted yesterday at the possibility that one day, the museum would likely pursue a permanent collection of its own.

“Ultimately I do believe we will head off in that direction,” he said.

Natalie Singer: 206-464-2704 or nsinger@seattletimes.com