People often think of art museums as stuffy, places to be quiet, to look and not touch. They are not usually considered places to have fun.
But the Hilliard Museum of Art is finding ways to change that perception, making exhibits more interactive to inspire deeper learning and, yes, fun.
Laminated cards hanging on a wall tell visitors to play “I Spy” or go on a “texture adventure.” This card features pieces of fabric with three different textures for users to touch instead of art. They are then asked to hunt for a piece in the gallery that appears to have the same structure.
On the same wall are pencils and sheets of paper for patrons to sketch, write or respond to the exhibit in their own way.
These items are part of the Deep Look exhibit in the Learning Lab on the second floor of Hilliard. Each element is intentional, part of the museum’s community education program.
“To inspire and educate through the arts is our mission,” said director LouAnne Greenwald. “While we are the university’s art museum, we are also the community’s museum.”
The museum, named for Paul and Lulu Hilliard, is the art museum for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Museum staff work closely with university faculty and staff throughout the school year, whether for the art department’s core course or with Honors English students to produce elements such as an audio guide for the Deep Look exhibit. Patrons scan the QR code with their smartphone to hear the guide written and recorded by UL’s technical writing students last spring.
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Such learning opportunities are not isolated to Deep Look. Pieces throughout the museum come with extended labels, inviting visitors to dive deeper into the work by offering different perspectives or more background on an artist or work, Greenwald said.
Some installations, like L. Kasimu Harris’s Vanishing Black Bars & Lounges currently downstairs at the Hilliard, include spiral notebooks with additional material of his inspiration, such as the artist’s New York Times photo essay. Laminated notebooks can be carried around the gallery to enhance the customer experience.
“The notebooks are an extension of the introductory essay,” said curator Ben Hickey. “We like to make things personal and mobile… We don’t want there to be any unanswered questions about whether we can help.”
Harris’ showroom also features a built-in bar lit by a string of lights, decorations and a flat-screen TV. Chairs rented from a local bar lend a sense of reality to the installation.
“It’s a way to engage with art,” Hickey said. “There are different approaches to every single show.”
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The engagement doesn’t have to end when they leave the building. Some exhibits are accompanied by a curated Spotify playlist, accessed via QR codes.
“You can take it with you and continue the experience at home or in the car,” said Christina Lake, development manager for Hilliard.
Other opportunities to engage with the museum come in the form of events like a Quarterly Family Play Day, monthly Yoga in the Gallery, Let’s Make Art workshops, public forums called Creative Conversations, and more. The full calendar of events can be found online at Hilliard’s website.
“Creative expression is a way to feel empowered, to exercise your inner muse, to tap into and express a creative spirit,” Greenwald said. “The creative spirit is really central to this community.”