The University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s Hilliard Art Museum earned national accreditation from the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), setting it among a prestigious group of museums around the nation.
The accreditation indicates a professional standard of care and practices which gives the museum access to a vast selection of displays and pieces from around the nation.
According to LouAnne Greenwald, Hilliard Art Museum director, some traveling pieces will only go to the select museums with accreditation.
“The recognition is an industry stamp. We have proven we operate by the best practices. We would care for our objects in a very careful way. We are sort of allowed to network with other higher institutions,” Greenwald said.
According to the AAM website, it is a nonprofit organization with the mission “to champion equitable and impactful museums by connecting people, fostering learning and community, and nurturing museum excellence.”
Kathryn Scurlock, chairman of the board for the Hilliard Society, explained how the accreditation opens the museum to networking.
“Say, for instance, if a traveling exhibit was looking to do a show, they will look for credited museums. On our part, we will keep an eye out for exhibits we can display, and reach out. Before, most places wouldn’t even consider loaning us works,” Scurlock said.
According to Greenwald, the accreditation provides opportunities to more than just the museum itself.
“It is really unique for a college campus to have this type of institution. Students can see their teachers’ work displayed in a professional setting,” Greenwald said.
Scurlock followed by saying, “We give people an opportunity to see art they may not otherwise have the opportunity to see.”
Greenwald said the process for receiving accreditation took 8 1/2 years, although the actual review for accreditation took only a year. In those eight and a half years, the museum and its staff utilized various reviews and their feedback to identify its strengths and weaknesses which required work.
“I came to UL in 2014, and it was my first directorship, and one of the requirements or ambitions for the position was to get accredited. It’s a multi-year process where our museum went through many assessments, and from those assessments, we were given suggestions from peer reviewers on how we could improve, required us to develop policies, procedures, and core documents for operation,” Greenwad said.
According to Greenwald, a priority for the AAM in accreditation became education and interpretation. This required the museum staff to take a different approach to interpretation and education than before.
“Previously, we thought about interpretation as the writing of educational texts. Universally, when you go to exhibitions, the first thing you encounter is the text on the wall which breaks down the intention behind the piece and tells the story of the piece and the artist behind it,” Greenwald said.
“We came to realize it’s not just about how we write about and talk about those programs, it’s the program itself. It’s in the overall design of the exhibition and we think more expansively about the overall themes and presentation,” Greenwald continued.
Another focus, according to Greenwald, was on increasing interactivity.
“You know, in some museums, I think it can sometimes be a more passive experience. We are striving to find more ways to make our museum experience an active one, maybe even a social one,” Greenwald said.
Greenwald shared how the Hilliard museum is one of only 23 museums in Louisiana with accreditation, and only 2,000 of the roughly 33,000 museums in the United States are nationally accredited.
The next step, according to Scurlock, is to keep up the standards for accreditation, as the museum must apply to renew accreditation every 10 years.
“We will need to ensure we are maintaining the standards for the accreditation. At the same time, we want to be able to seek out and find world-class art,” Scurlock said.
Greenwald indicated that expansion may be in the future as the museum looks to remodel and open the previous, and storied, museum building, which sits adjacent to the current facility.
“We want to get people inside to learn about and appreciate the historic building,” Greenwald said.
“I am very pleased and proud of Louanne and our staff. It was a rigorous process that required a ton of work. It’s because of their hard work that we are where we are. This is prestigious, not only for us and UL, but the whole Lafayette community,” Scorlock concluded.