People often think of art museums as stuffy, as places to be quiet, to look and not touch. They are not usually perceived as places of entertainment.
But the Hilliard Museum of Art is finding ways to change that perception by making exhibits more interactive to inspire deeper learning and, yes, fun.
Laminated cards hanging from one wall tell visitors to play “I Spy” or go on a “texture adventure.” This card includes swatches of fabric in three different textures for users to touch instead of the art. They are then asked to look for a piece in the gallery that appears to have the same texture.
On the same wall are pencils and pads of paper for visitors to sketch, write or respond to the exhibit in their own way.
These objects are part of the Deep Look exhibit in the Learning Lab on the second floor of Hilliard. Each element is intentional, part of the community museum’s educational program.
“To inspire and educate through the arts is our mission,” said Principal LuAnn Greenwald. “While we are a university art museum, we are also a community museum.”
The Paul and Lulu Hilliard Museum is the art museum for the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
Museum staff work closely with university faculty and staff throughout the academic year, whether for the Faculty of Arts’ art course or with honors English students, to create items such as the audio guide for the Deep Look exhibition. Patrons scan the QR code with their smartphone to listen to the guide, written and recorded by UL technical writing students last spring.
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Such learning opportunities are not isolated to Deep Look. Exhibits at the museum come with extended labels, inviting visitors to dive deeper into the work, providing different perspectives or more information about an artist or work, Greenwald said.
Some installations, such as L. Cassimu Harris’s Disappearing Black Bars and Lounges, currently downstairs at the Hilliard, include spiral notebooks with additional material from his inspiration, such as the artist’s photo essay in the New York Times. Laminated notebooks can be carried around the gallery to enhance the visitor experience.
“The notebooks are a continuation of the introductory essay,” said curator Ben Hickey. “We like to make things personal and portable … We don’t want there to be any unanswered questions if we can help it.”
Harris’ display also includes 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 for 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 accessible via QR codes.
“You can take it with you and continue the experience at home or in the car,” said Christina Lake, Hilliard’s development manager.
Other opportunities to engage with the museum come in the form of events such as the quarterly Family Play Day, monthly yoga in the galleries, Let’s Make Art workshops, public forums called Creative Conversations, and more. A full calendar of events can be found online at the Hilliard website.
“Creative expression is a way to feel empowered, exercise your inner muse, access and express a creative spirit,” Greenwald said. “The creative spirit is really central to this community.”