Making The Experience About More Than Just The Art

I caught an interview on a National Endowment for the Arts’ podcast¬† with Tyler Blackwell Curator of Contemporary Art at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. Blackwell talks about how he is working to increase representation for race and gender identity through his work at the museum.

What caught my ear was the museum’s plan to open a sculpture park that seems more focused on providing a green space to the community 24 hours a day than on encouraging residents to enter the museum. Blackwell says that they accept that people may linger outside by never enter.

…a sculpture park that sort of encircles the museum, is going to be a very significant green space in a part of Louisville that does not have a lot of public space for being outside, and so that is sort of one way. That’s a very basic and foundational way that folks might just be outside without ever coming into the museum, and they’re surrounded by art and they can gather and they can sit with their families or they can come with their friends and just sit on the grass.

Additionally, Blackwell mentions how the museum will be working to change the dynamics in their buildings to facilitate gatherings and conversations:

Then another way that the Speed is thinking about its openness, and again, trying to make itself a gathering place, is simply by incorporating more seating in the galleries, and that sounds so basic, but it is not so much about adding a more single benches here and there, but rather creating little pockets of comfortable seating that is so you can come into the museum. Perhaps you’re students at the adjacent University of Louisville and you are coming to study, you’re coming to read, and you know that there’s this one space in the museum that is usually pretty quiet and you are surrounded by amazing, amazing artworks from all over the world and you have the most comfortable chair you’ve ever sat in, and so simply by, again, creating more space and more invitations for sitting, gathering, talking perhaps. Museums do not have to be this quiet place that we also consider as being, you know, I often see people shushing other folks in the galleries.

This resonates with some of the posts I made last week. In one about the Wallace Foundation audience building initiative I included quotes from groups who found audiences wanted a more wholistic social experience. About a week before, I made a post on perceptions of crime in urban areas deterring attendance at urban based arts organizations and that one possible way to shift that perception was to frame the experience in the context of the surrounding environment which might include restaurants, riverside walks, exploring historic districts, etc.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


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