Allentown Art Museum

By Carole Gorney

It’s been just one year since the Allentown Art Museum completed a $15.4 million building expansion and it’s already seeing great benefits from the project. The additional space and enhanced facilities are helping to secure high quality traveling exhibits, increase community partnerships and provide the best possible experiences for its visitors.

A traveling exhibition of sketches and posters of the 19th-Century Paris artist, “Toulouse Lautrec and his World,” is slated to open at the Allentown Art Museum in June 2013.  Part of a collection from the Heraklaidon Museum in Athens, Greece, the exhibit will fill both the Scheller and Rodale galleries on the greatly expanded second floor.  “This is only the second time that this show is being showcased in the United States,” according to Marketing Coordinator Megan Haddad.  “One reason it is coming here is the attraction of the new gallery.”

Upon reopening last October after a year of renovations, the museum scored big with “Who Shot Rock and Roll,” a photographic history of nearly 60 years of rock, soul and hip-hop, and the performers who popularized the music.  “’Rock and Roll’ did wonderfully,” Haddad said.   With nearly 25,000 visits to the exhibit the museum more than exceeded its attendance goals.

On the heels of that success, the museum followed with “At the Edge: Art of the Fantastic,” the largest and most comprehensive exhibit of fantastic art to date in the United States. After its first two months, “At the Edge” had attracted some 15,000 visitors.  The overall attendance goal for the end of the museum’s post-renovation year is a total of 100,000 visitors, and by the end of June the museum was well on its way with 77,000, Haddad said.

Attendance numbers, however, are not all the museum is trying to achieve.  Both of the inaugural shows had something in common, and it was no coincidence.  They were designed to appeal to a younger, and a more diverse group of attendees. As Haddad explained, “We decided during renovations to target a younger demographic through our exhibitions and programming, and we are seeing an increase [in attendance] among young people.”  She added that the museum is also reaching out further to Philadelphia, New York and New Jersey.  “We are getting people from other parts of the country. We have people signing our guest book from California.”  Haddad sees the museum becoming a destination in Allentown.

Going forward, Haddad said the museum intends to continue the same kind of partnerships and collaborations that it did so well with “Who Shot Rock and Roll” and “The Art of the Fantastic.” This will include theme-related promotions and special events, such as “Sizzling Summer Nights,” organized by the Allentown Art Museum, in conjunction with the Allentown Symphony Association, the Baum School of Art, Civic Theatre of Allentown, Community Music School and the Repertory Dance Theatre.

The “Fall Family Festival: Full Steam Ahead” at the museum on November 4 is an afternoon of trains to trails, tied to the museum’s current “Franz Kline: Coal and Steel” exhibit.  It is being coordinated with the National Canal Museum and Jim Thorpe musician and clog dancer Jay Smarr.

This event is among the many activities already held or planned to enhance the museum’s kids and family programming, whether it is summer camps or the high school Poetry Out Loud contest or special lectures throughout the year.

There’s fun on the calendar for adults, as well.  On the first Wednesday of each month different noon talks are offered related to the permanent collections. “Art Encounters” are monthly second-Friday art appreciation get-togethers for the fifty-and-over set, with tours focusing on a different aspect of the current exhibitions. The recent “Appetite for Art” program gave art lovers a chance to have a catered lunch with the president of the museum, who provided an in-depth look at a selected work from the permanent collection.

For those who work during the week, there’s “Five After Five.” Every fourth Friday of the month, the museum stays open until 7:00 p.m., and admission is $5 after 5:00 p.m.

Then, of course, there are the all-important preview parties. A “Black and White” theme party held in October celebrated the opening of “Coal and Steel,” and the concurrent “Walker Evans & The American Social Landscape Photographers” exhibit, both running through January 13, 2013.

“We’re looking to do something fun at every preview party,” Haddad said.  “We want more than just hors d’oeuvres and drinks.”

So what else is ahead for the museum? The 2013 schedule is crowded with “Fabulous Flappers: Fashion from the Ellie Laubner Collection,” and “Haitian Art from the Rodale Collection, February 3 – April 15; and, of course, there is also “Toulouse Lautrec and His World,” June 2 – September 1.   It’s safe to say that the Allentown Art Museum is not only bigger; it has never been better.

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