How the Hilliard Art Museum connects to the community

People often think of art museums as stuffy places to be quiet, places to look and not touch. They are generally not considered places of entertainment.

But the Hilliard Art Museum is finding ways to change that perception, making exhibits more interactive to inspire deeper learning and, yes, fun.

Laminated cards hung on a wall instruct visitors to play “I Spy” or embark on a “texture adventure”. This map features fabric swatches of three different textures that users can touch instead of art. Next, they are asked to search for a piece in the gallery that appears to have the same texture.

On the same wall are crayons and pads of paper for patrons to draw, write or react 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 the Hilliard. Each item is intentional and part of the museum’s community education programming.

“To inspire and educate through the arts is our mission,” said director LouAnne Greenwald. “Although we are the university’s art museum, we are also the community museum.”

The museum, named after Paul and Lulu Hilliard, is the art museum of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.

Museum staff work closely with faculty and university staff throughout the academic year, whether for the capstone course in the art department or with Specialized English students to produce things like an audio guide for the Deep Look exhibition. Customers 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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Hilliard Museum of Art.  Wednesday July 6, 2022.

Such learning opportunities are not isolated to Deep Look. Pieces in the museum come with extended labels, inviting visitors to dive deeper into the artwork by offering different perspectives or more information about an artist or piece, Greenwald said.

Some installations, like L. Kasimu Harris’ “Vanishing Black Bars & Lounges” currently on the Hilliard’s ground floor, include spiral notebooks with additional material of his inspiration, like the artist’s photo essay in the New York Times. 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 portable. … We don’t want there to be any unanswered questions if we can help it.”

Harris’ exhibit 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 setup.

“It’s a way to engage with art,” Hickey said. “There are different approaches for each show.”

LouAnne Greenwald - Director of the Hilliard Art Museum.  Wednesday July 6, 2022.

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The engagement does not have to end when they leave the building. Some exhibits come with a Spotify playlist curated via QR codes.

“You can take it with you and continue the experience at home or in the car,” said Hilliard development manager Christina Lake.

Other opportunities to engage with the museum come in the form of events like a quarterly family play day, monthly gallery yoga, Let’s Make Art workshops, public forums called Creative Conversations and more. The full schedule of events is available online at Hilliard’s website.

Ben Hickey, curator of the Deep Look exhibition at the Hilliard Art Museum.  Wednesday July 6, 2022.

“Creative expression is a way to feel empowered, to exercise your inner muse, to access and express a creative mind,” Greenwald said. “The creative spirit is really at the center of this community.”

Contact Leigh Guidry, Children’s Issues Reporter, at [email protected] or on Twitter @LeighGGuidry.

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