January 2018

by Ann Talbott Brown, Director of Arts Education, Tennessee Arts Commission

Courtesy of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts

The Frist Center for the Visual Arts begins renovation of the Martin ArtQuest Gallery (MAQ) this month. Since its opening in 2001, MAQ has served more than 1.5 million visitors of all ages by providing hands-on art-making opportunities in a 4,000-square-foot interactive art gallery space. Almost half of all Frist Center visitors utilize the gallery as part of their experience, which equates to 100,000 people each year exploring drawing, printmaking, painting, sculpture, and more with the guidance of professional educators and access to high-quality arts materials.

MAQ was one of the early leaders in the art museum world providing an experiential space focused on art- making, which, according to Anne Henderson, Director of Education and Outreach at the Frist, makes the gallery unique. “We have museum colleagues across the country who still come through to see the [MAQ] space and gain insight and ideas for their institutions.” Even with its demonstrated success, MAQ plans to reinvent their offerings. “We did a major research project between 2007 and 2011, funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services, on family learning and interactive galleries, which examined programs of the Speed Art Museum in Louisville, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and us. The Speed has a new building; the High is renovating, and we are renovating, too. It’s time.”

With such a high-touch gallery, 16 years have taken a toll on equipment and furnishings. The renovations will enhance the gallery’s ability to serve the community by reworking the space to accommodate visitors of all abilities with accessible stations, installing clear glass windows to showcase large collaborative art projects and draw in museum goers, and incorporating sound baffling to improve acoustics, especially vital with an increased capacity of 150 people. According to Henderson, the goal is to “keep the things we love but add some new elements and focus on 21st-century learning skills—critical thinking, collaboration, creativity—many of the same things that we did but just more so [to build] community.”

Courtesy of the Frist Center for the Visual Arts

In addition to renovating the physical space, MAQ will expand the animation and technology offerings and install a 16-foot color wall comprised of lights representing all colors of the spectrum—think color wheel but for the 21st century—especially relevant as arts educators are thinking beyond the restraints of the traditional color wheel. As part of the renovation, there will be a loom for weaving to encourage intergenerational collaboration. In coming years, the museum staff plans to involve contemporary artists in the design of new interactive stations and keep the space fresh and engaging.

While the Martin ArtQuest Gallery will be closed during renovation, the museum will offer artmaking in studio spaces. MAQ is set to reopen at the end of May 2018. To support the renovation, or to learn more, contact Crystal Churchwell, Associate Director of Development, at cchurchwell@fristcenter.org.

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