Speed That Will Give Goosebumps

IMG_0204Over three years ago, the Speed Museum, the oldest, largest and foremost art museum in the state, made the shocking announcement to shut its doors. To the relief of its several stalwart patrons, this move was made to further an ambitious restoration and renovation initiative that would transform the museum into something that could attract new patronage from the 21st century as well as respect those supporters who have been there from the beginning.

Chief Executive Officer and Director of the Speed Ghislain d’Humières has this to say on the subject:

“We are building a museum for the 21st century that will provide visitors with multiple ways to engage with art and creative expression from a local, national and global perspective. When we reopen to the public in March, the re-imagined Speed will be a dynamic and welcoming space that transforms into a community hub for the young and the young at heart.”

Speaking with Steven Bowling, the Speed’s director of marketing and communications, on the Speed and goals that d’Humières mentioned is like speaking simultaneously to both a parent and child the night before Christmas. Like many, Steven is ready for the museum to reopen its doors and share the magic and beauty with the world, but at the same time, he knows that in order to do that, one has to plan and organize fastidiously. It’s an exciting and auspicious combination of emotions to see.

IMG_0199Local Speed

In the interim period between the announcement of the renovation program at the Speed and the opening of the new museum, Louisville has had the opportunity to enjoy the Local Speed, a sort of satellite office that serves as a way for the Speed to still have a physical connection to the Louisville community. Located on Market Street, the Local Speed is filled to the brim with promise of what the new Speed’s culture will be like, and, on the second floor, it also houses the staff that is working so diligently to make that a reality.

Bowling says that the new Speed’s mission is to make the museum more accessible:

“We want to attract the art curious as well as the art knowledgeable, to focus on inclusivity, on making this a 21st century museum: a museum for everyone. We want you to enjoy the museum even if you don’t know a Dali from a Degas. One of the big ideas that we want to bring to the new Speed is a cultural mosaic. So many people in this state never leave it, so how do we bring the world here? The idea is also to have patrons young and old enjoying the museum. We asked our staff how they wanted to accomplish this, and two of our younger staff members suggested some of the things we have on the first floor of Local Speed.”

One of the prominent examples of those suggestions is art created by local youth. Several pieces of poetry and corresponding art pieces adorn the walls that serve to give children a real connection to the place, an investment in their futures with the Speed and their general art education. There is another example of crowd-sourced art outside of the building that asks passersby to write in chalk what their hopes for the future are. Back inside, in a truly modern combination of art and American consumer culture, there is an Artomat, a retired cigarette vending machine that has been re-purposed to dispense tiny pieces of art instead. In a demonstration of remembrance of the original Speed’s mission, there are also 19th century French pencil prints. It’s a fascinating combination of old and new, classic and modern that, if carried over to the full museum when it opens, should prove successful.

The New Facility and Museum Store

The design for the new Speed will employ Urban Acupuncture, an architectural movement that involves, wherever possible, adding to pre-existing structures instead of replacing them. In other words, the “new” building won’t be completely new. It will still feature much of the limestone, glass, metal and concrete of the original. Inside, there will be a new, beautiful, glass wrap staircase with water from outside flowing underneath it. There is an elaborate humidity-regulation system in place to keep fugs from appearing on the glass. It is also worth noting that water will be shut off when the temperature gets below freezing.

One of the largest additions to the new museum is going to be the museum store. Andrew Hudson is the museum store manager, and he says that the chance to not only manage the store but assist in its design from the ground up was attractive. “Museum culture was very different in the ’20s, when the Speed was built,” Hudson says. “There were no dedicated museum stores back then, so this will be the first time the Speed has had a fully dedicated store. It will also be the only part of the museum that is fully visible from the outside, so we want to use it as a welcoming card for the community.”

Hudson goes on to say that the store will reflect the museum and contain the work of local artists and craftspeople. He and his team are still curating the jewelry, ceramics and other pieces that will be on sale.


One of the most beloved sections of the original Speed was ArtSparks, regarded as “the children’s part” of the museum. Steven Bowling says that the Speed wants to go in a slightly new direction this time around. “Whether you’re five or 50, we want you to enjoy the museum. We want to create a place where conversations can happen across generations.”

To further that end, Speed brought on Anne Taylor, the director of learning and community outreach. Having previously worked at The Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., Taylor was able to bring her wealth of experience to update ArtSparks from its original 1997 iteration.

To aid in her redesign, she contacted The Exploratorium in San Francisco, a museum of science, art and humanities dedicated to changing the way the world learns by exposing patrons to opportunities to learn hands-on. Together, they came up with the idea of creating three areas in ArtSparks that are dedicated to the cycle of experiencing art.

The three areas are Noticing, Making and Talking. Each area will be filled with activities to educate, “spark” conversation and just have fun. There will be Apples to Apples-inspired games that require the participant to pair words from a word bank with a painting as well as the other way around. Digital canvases where one can use his or her phone to create a temporary art piece will also be in place.

For the very young, more sensory and tactile options are available such as Found Faces, an activity where preschool-age children are asked to find representative “faces” in inanimate objects. It’s purpose is to teach how to begin associating humanity with something not made of flesh and bone but only representative of it. Regardless of age, there is an activity in this new Speed museum fixture that will keep each and every patron coming back for more.


Dean Otto is the curator of film for the Speed. That’s right, the museum, for the first time ever, will be getting its own film program. This places the Speed on a very short list of museums to have such a program, and it was an opportunity that Otto could not pass up. “There are very few programs to begin with, and many of the film curators associated with those programs stay there. It’s understandable. That’s what I hope to do.”

Otto sought the advice of James Bond, the film curator at The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The result is a state of the art theatre that will be a permanent fixture of the museum and have the ability to present cinema in 16 mm, 35 mm and digital formats. The sound absorption in the theatre will be so advanced that, Otto says, it will force the audience member to, “hear the film like a sound editor or director.”

The anchor program will focus on limited releases, art-house cinema and restorations of classic films. Otto, of course, has copious ideas for doing more than just showing movies and making the cinema program the talk of the town. Otto wants to have master classes from local and nonlocal filmmakers as well as make film essays and suggested viewing available to patrons.

The ideas don’t stop there though. “I have a passion for the experimental,” he says. Otto wants to find a way to include virtual reality as part of exhibit at some point because he believes that it is the new frontier of filmmaking as well as expose international cinema to children. It’s a fascinating and exciting new venture for the museum. “I just think that film is a fantastic way to see the world,” says Otto.

IMG_0184Events and Rentals

Rachel Hamilton is the special event sales manager, and it is her responsibility to run any events that use the Speed as their venue. From weddings to business meetings, it all falls under Hamilton’s purview, and according to her, bookings are already going fast. In fact, it is she who is responsible for organizing logistics of the museum’s Opening Gala, an event that is fully scheduled for a daunting 30 hours that will celebrate all of the Speed’s new fixtures and exhibits in the fullest way possible.

It is worth mentioning too that Hamilton is one of the few staff members without an art background, making her perspective unique and powerful when shared. “To be able to come into work every day and see beautiful pieces of art – I’ve been working so long on other things that when I finally saw the art pieces start to arrive, it surprised me. It reminded me why I have always wanted to work here. It gave me goosebumps.” The new Speed Museum opens on March 12, 2016. Attend and you may get goosebumps too. VT

Courtesy photos