21st Century Engagement

Art Sparks rendering 2There’s no doubt that Louisville’s anticipation for the reopening of the Speed Art Museum builds with every passing week as we inch closer to March 12, 2016. Community curiosity reaches a new level with each piece of news released by the museum as prospective guests wonder and learn what they can expect within the new museum. And thanks to the Department of Engagement, steps are already being taken to ensure that the community gets the most out of the museum, whether on its campus or elsewhere.

Chief Engagement Officer Anne Taylor Brittingham describes her department as “a merger of what we call the learning and community outreach with marketing and communications. So it’s thinking about how we’re engaging visitors both in the museum and out in the community.” Brittingham has been with the museum for a year and a half but nonetheless astutely surmises what exactly is going to make visitors not only care about the museum but also become its patrons and members.

One example of the museum’s interaction with the community is Wall Together, a program that pairs local groups or nonprofits with Speed educators to create art projects over the course of several visits. When the Speed reopens, the products of these collaborations will be on display in the museum.

Meanwhile, the Speed will also have a program specifically targeted at interacting with school-aged children outside of the museum. Art Detectives, according to Brittingham, “takes original art objects out into classrooms and connects with visual arts, language arts and social studies classes. We’ve already booked over 6,000 students this year, and that’s how we’ve been engaging and will continue to engage with school audiences out in the community.”

Anne Taylor Brittingham.

Anne Taylor Brittingham.

Back within the museum, Brittingham is especially excited for the redesign of Art Sparks. What was formerly a space primarily intended for younger children will become a place for all ages to truly engage with art. Brittingham notes that space was previously divided into small areas but will now be much more open and conducive to exploration and conversation.

Art Sparks is partnered with and was designed by the Exploratorium in San Francisco, and the three key points of the area will be noticing, making and talking. Accordingly, the space will start with visitors looking at art pieces before moving on to creating something of their own and then finally interacting with each other over games and discussions to reflect on what they’ve learned.

By engaging with younger as well as older audiences, Art Sparks is only one example of the new Speed’s emerging theme of bridging the past with the present and future. Director of Marketing and Communications Steven Bowling contends that this trend has certainly been intentional. “It’s sort of like marrying the old with the new,” he ponders. “For example, when we moved out to NuLu, it was, ‘How do we attract the gallery-goers or the art-curious versus the art-savvy?’ We already have the art-savvy, or the traditionalists, but how do we attract a new generation?”

Children participating in Art Detectives.

Children participating in Art Detectives.

One way the Speed plans to do so is by hosting Social Speed on the second Thursday of every month. “It’ll be from 6 to 9 p.m.; it’ll be themed; it’s meant to attract all ages, but it’s definitely aimed at getting the 20, 30 and 40-somethings to come for different musical performances or trivia or art-making activities,” Brittingham describes. The main attraction will vary month to month, but guests of any age will no doubt find something to engage with each time. “Hopefully, they come for that program and then want to come back and sign up for a workshop or come when their parents are in town,” Brittingham suggests.

Another important aspect to connecting with this more modern audience is the Speed’s upcoming practice of offering free admission on Sundays. “We put the TARC schedule on the website because we’re trying to remove barriers, and that’s exactly what we’re doing with the free Sundays,” Bowling explains. “If the admission cost is a barrier, then let’s give them a day – especially on the weekend – where they can go. So by removing these barriers and removing this stigma that you have to be an art historian to come into the museum and by adding film, an Art Park and different experiences like that, you have different gateways into entering the museum.”

Indeed, Bowling and Brittingham both look forward to the conversations that will hopefully be started when those formerly unable or uninterested in coming to the museum step through its doors. Brittingham in particular anticipates the way the museum will interact with its visitors onsite, specifically through the museum’s soon-to-be-released app. “If you came to the museum, had downloaded the app and were with a group of friends, you could pick your type of tour that you wanted and then have different activities to do with your group,” she offers. “So it’s not just you getting words that you’re reading on a screen – it’s directing you to change places with somebody or move around or move up close.”

Clearly, the Speed is unquestionably prepared to appeal to audiences of all ages in a myriad of ways. From the projects such as Wall Together and Art Detectives that take place out in the community to the museum’s own Social Speed and Art Sparks, there’s truly something for everyone as the museum begins to engage with the community like never before. VT