Tucked away at the corner of Fourth Street and Peabody Drive is the Krannert Art Museum. When it was built in 1961, the museum had only four galleries with a smoking room.
Today, the museum houses more than 11,000 works of art, ranging from detailed paintings to a sculpture made of rubber pants with a bowl of water inside.
However, the number of visitors to the museum has fallen sharply since the start of the pandemic. However, according to KAM employees, they are slowly recovering.
Employees reflected on the past two years and pointed out that the museum is one of the hidden gems on campus that more students should take advantage of.
According to Julia Nucci Kelly, deputy director of marketing and communications at the museum, the number of visitors to KAM has dropped since March 2020.
“Before March 2020, our average attendance was closer to 11,000 visitors per month during the academic year,” said Nucci Kelly. “During the fall and spring semesters (of last year), we averaged around 2,100 visitors per month to the galleries.”
Like other museums, Krannert closed when the pandemic began, and it was difficult to show visitors his art in person.
The museum also housed an Espresso Royale where students gathered to hang out or hold social events. Since 2020, the cafe has remained closed. Nucci Kelly said she doesn’t know when it will reopen.
“He was one of our casualties of 2020,” Nucci Kelly said. “Now we’re just waiting…but when we get another coffee, we’ll be screaming from the top of the mountains.”
Another casualty of the pandemic was KAM Fest – an event held during Welcome Week where there was free food, screen printing, live music and more all in one night. Nucci Kelly estimated that there would be around 3,500 people in the museum at any one time.
Luckily for the museum, coordinators found ways to adapt to the pandemic. The museum was able to show his art and organize events thanks to an idea he had implemented three years before.
“We built a way to have the art collections online from 2017, and it’s been useful,” said Nucci Kelly. “We’re really lucky because we already had all the artwork online.”
Nucci Kelly also said the approach is still used today. Some galleries can be found on their website.
“We’ve kept our hybrid approach to events so people who are more comfortable engaging with the museum from afar can do the same,” said Nucci Kelly.
In the fall, KAM Fest was in person again. Instead of it all taking place in one night, the event took place over a week.
“We had four days where we did all kinds of things,” Nucci Kelly said. “We’ve had tons of giveaways, giveaways, scavenger hunts and things like that.”
Nucci Kelly also said there were around 450 participants in total. The museum has been trying to figure out how to get back to pre-pandemic numbers.
Madison Hall, a recent college graduate and front desk worker at the museum, said more marketing efforts would help.
“I feel like no one really knows he exists,” Hall said. “Like, I’ve brought a lot of friends here who are like, ‘Wow, that’s cool, but I’ve never even heard of it.’ Advertising and marketing would help.
Rachel Gu, a PhD student in arts education and security guard at the museum, has her own way of increasing traffic. As an educator, Gu brings her students to the museum to complete their homework.
Gu recalled a time when one of his in-person classes was canceled. To keep her students engaged in the work, she asked them to go to the museum.
“You can spend two hours at the museum instead of attending this class,” Gu said. “I asked them to draw sketches based on the works they saw.”
However, Gu also said that if she didn’t ask her students to come, she doesn’t think they would come on their own terms.
Nucci Kelly said providing more opportunities for students will increase visitor traffic. She highlighted the importance of student-organized events and called them “awesome.”
“I remember there was a group of students who said, ‘We want to do something like an arts night on reading day,’ and they called it ‘Sugar High,'” Nucci Kelly said. “You could do art and go to the cafe and have some treats.”
Nucci Kelly said she wants more student engagement and feedback so the museum can create more events like Sugar High.
“I think the students have some good ideas,” said Nucci Kelly. “So that’s one of the reasons why we always ask student members what their ideas are and how they would like to realize them. We train student staff to help with events.
According to Nucci Kelly, KAM has a lot to offer and is very unique in the community. She likes the way the museum is run and the things that are offered to students.
“There are four or five temporary exhibitions we do a year, and the types of work we present change all the time,” said Nucci Kelly. “The types of works shown may vary from donations from collectors, purchased selections and student art.
There are also free events for students and the community.
“We have movie screenings or concerts, and sometimes an artist comes to talk about their work,” Nucci Kelly said. “Sometimes we’ll have a gallery conversation or we’ll have student events.”
Nucci Kelly also pointed out how the museum is a place of relaxation for students.
“We also provide one of the few spaces where you can come and actually be with your thoughts,” she said. “Sometimes I feel like it’s worth having a space where you can relax and be quiet.”
She also recalled that there used to be a “rest lab” that offered games and “all sorts of things” for students to relax.
Nucci Kelly pointed out that the museum is free. She hopes that this knowledge could attract more visitors.
“The museum is free, and I think there is currently a shortage of free activities around the world,” said Nucci Kelly. “So that’s something I really hope students know about.”