Jon Seydl, Director of Krannert Art Museum, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 2022. Photo by L. Brian Stauffer.

I often describe KAM as a lab, where we conduct cutting-edge research, and a sanctuary, where we attend to the well-being of our students and the residents of east central Illinois. But we are also a civic center, a place where everyone can gather, feel welcome, and connect with our collections and programs. Public engagement stands at the core of our work, and this semester, we’re sharing some of the innovative ways in which we’re developing deeper connections with our broad and diverse community. 

Over the last year, we’ve focused a lot of attention on improving our visitor service. We hope you’re seeing the results. Gone are the stuffy blue blazers for student guards, replaced by more relaxed black T-shirts, a simple way to make everyone more comfortable. Our new welcome desk, designed by Navillus in Chicago, allows us to greet visitors more graciously and effectively. Accessibility for all is paramount, and so we’re proud of our new, fully-accessible restrooms for all genders; our commitment to a larger, more readable font for labels; and new visitor maps and wayfinding, as just a few ways—large and small—that we’re focusing on our visitors.

Many university museums primarily serve students, but KAM has also always had a deep dedication to the complex and varied communities of east central Illinois. We’ve always done a great job connecting with more traditional museum goers, but we’re focusing now on being truly inclusive. To that end, we’ve moved a hidden gem—the Giertz Education Center—and opened it up to the public. Our collection of touchable objects—formerly a resource primarily for teachers—is now used actively with our outreach programs in care facilities for older adults and in our own Krannert Art Museum–Week at the Museum school programs. And our open-door policy means that everyone, especially families with children, is welcome to take a hands-on approach to objects in this space whenever the museum is open.

We’re thrilled to welcome Blair Ebony Smith, an artist, educator, and postdoctoral fellow in Art Education, who is working at KAM to pioneer new modes of engaging underserved communities in Champaign-Urbana. In October, she brought Black Girl Genius Week to KAM, connecting her research on Black girlhood and art education to programming at the museum, including a pop-up exhibition of work created during Black Girl Genius Week programs across the country and right here in our local community. You’ll see from her essay that we’re looking forward to more engagement along those lines. 

Finally, we have Hive, a collaboration between Nancy Davidson and Lakshmi Ramgopal. Their site-specific installation literally lights up the entrance of the Kinkead Pavilion and fills it with sound, embodying how we expect the work of KAM to radiate beyond our walls and into the community.

Let me know what you think,

Jon L. Seydl, Director