Ideas flow in first of three Cedar Rapids art museum community forums

Interactive exhibits, school outreach among suggestions for museum's future

Diana Nollen
Published: April 3 2014 | 5:18 am - Updated: 7 April 2014 | 3:08 pm in

The Cedar Rapids Museum of Art is turning to the community to help frame its future.

A small group primarily of local artists help launch a series of three open forums Wednesday night with an abundance of ideas, from creating interactive displays in the galleries to cultivating the next generation of visitors by expanding on the museum's school outreach.

More forums are slated for noon today(Thursday) and 5 p.m. Tuesday, April 8 in the museum's third floor auditorium. All are free and open to anyone.

"Our mission is to excite, engage and educate through the arts," said Sean Ulmer, longtime curator and newly minted executive director. "We already educate. The harder words are 'excite' and 'engage.' ... The board realizes the success of this institution depends on the community."

He added that museums are in a state of transition, and their survival revolves around "figuring out what the community wants -- and delivering it."

Among the audience suggestions:

-- Create displays in conjunction with exhibits, showing the kind of equipment used in that medium, from actual print-making presses and plates to easels and paints.

-- Enhance exhibits with digital displays and audio components that explain the artworks and the artist's process.

-- Hold periodic salons where working artists can gather, network and exchange ideas.

-- Offer open houses where the public can come and meet the area's working artists.

-- Pair music with art by holding coffeehouses featuring live music, so the public can relax and experience the arts in the museum's ambiance.

-- Use marketing models to highlight an exhibit's featured artist. "If you create interest in the artist, then people will want to come see the art," said painter Michael S. Ryan of Cedar Rapids.

-- And make sure area residents realize the museum is part of their cultural heritage, by continuing to display works from the permanent collection. Ulmer said that's been his focus since coming to the museum in 2005 and it's the focus of all of this year's major exhibitions.

Ulmer added that the exterior renovations slated for completion by late June will go a long way toward making the museum a more inviting place for guests to explore.

"The smartest thing a museum can do is to loop into the community," he said.

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