As part of my job as museum curator, I visit museums and galleries around the state--to keep informed of what's going on. A few months back, Purdue Galleries Director Craig Martin invited me to Purdue University to jury an exhibition he has coming up in 2014--I was happy to do it.
The school has a top-notch art department, with terrific facilities. But Martin didn't direct me to the West Lafayette campus gallery. Instead, he directed me to the Fountain Gallery, a new space in the heart of downtown Lafayette, located across the street from the historic courthouse, in the Perrin building.
Fountain Gallery is an experiment of sorts established in June of 2013.
"It's an extension of the Purdue programming," explained Martin, "but with this gallery we have an opportunity to expand our reach; particularly with the K-12 audience. We believe it's important for young people to see art in person and be exposed to a range of ideas, themes and experiences."
"The downtown location makes it easier to reach the community beyond the university," he added.
INTRO: Community Selections was on display during my most recent visit. In keeping with the thinking-outside-the-box mentality of the gallery, this exhibition takes a somewhat unorthodox approach in how and why the works were chosen. Martin asked folks from the Lafayette--West Lafayette community to select works from the Purdue Galleries collection to be included in the exhibit, and then write personal comments about their selections that would be shared alongside the pieces.
"The goal was to engage the community and provide a less-formal interpretation of the collection," said Martin. "In many cases, having non-art folks share their thoughts on the work made it more accessible for everyone".
Martin confirmed the response was very positive, and shared an excerpt from Antonia Munguia's response to a piece by Jose Clemente Orozco titled La Familia (TresGeneraciones).
She wrote: "The title of this piece translates to 'The Family (Three generations)'. This lithograph makes me think of what life is all about, the family. The serene faces of the women and their eyes closed, reveals prayer, peace and positive reflection of coming together at the end of the day. It brought joy to my heart and took me back to when I was a young mother and had my daughter."
Public and private institutions are constantly looking for innovative ways to engage new audiences and give existing audiences a reason to return. I've always been a big proponent of street-level access to art. Large institutions have the advantage of having big galleries, but those large spaces can sometimes be intimidating and not easily accessible. The idea of people walking in off the street--maybe when they have just a few minutes on their lunch hour--to look at art is extremely important and goes a long way in building a loyal following. Martin's idea of having the public select and interpret the work is genius in my opinion. What better way to make your audience feel like you care about their needs? With the proper credit given, wouldn't be surprised if you one day see a similar program at a certain downtown museum.