Artist Jeffrey Gillette stood before his painting depicting Calcutta’s slums, cardboard lean-tos wedged between tin-roofed shacks as high-rises ascend in the background alongside images of Mickey Mouse on advertising placards.
Gillette’s 2010 “Slum” series chronicles the urban blight he witnessed traveling through Asia and a two-year stint in the Peace Corps. He keeps revisiting the region to photograph and paint.
During “Conversations with the Artist,” visitors out on the town for First Thursday’s Art Walk, Gillette held his audience spellbound for 20 minutes. (Previously, the museum featured Amy Caterina, Mark Chamberlain and the Legacy Project and Deborah Aschheim, a collaboration with the Great Park artist in residence program.)
The monthly series represents another effort by the museum to tap an arts-interested community and lure a broader audience. “We scheduled the event to dovetail with Art Walk since museum admission is free and we can attract a wide audience,” said Jennifer Gardiner, the museum’s newly hired community engagement associate.
To expand educational programs and community outreach, the museum’s executive director, Malcolm Warner, hired Gardiner part-time, tapping funds from a 2009 James Irvine Foundation grant.
The $375,000 grant stipulates, among other conditions, that the museum remain financially stable and expand its audience through participatory programs. For example, since March 6, the museum has offered free audio tours accessible via smart phone.
After eight weeks on the job, Warner revised longstanding practices to remake the museum into a more accessible destination. “The trend is that museum prices are increasing to the distress of visitors,” he said.
He lowered admission to $7 for adults and $5 for students, and the first Thursday of every month is free between 5 and 9 p.m. Museum hours have been extended to 9 p.m. on Thursdays, similar to the 8 p.m. Thursday closing at Newport Beach’s Orange County Museum of Art, which often features entertainment programs afterhours. Previously, the Laguna museum had been open seven days a week between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. Now, it is dark on Wednesdays.
He said that evening hours on Thursdays will make the museum more accessible for working people. “I always thought that it was strange that museums are open during office hours. There really has been no way to see a museum show in a relaxed manner,” he said. “Museums should be part of an enjoyable evening or a date night.”
Families will also get their due with children’s workshops on Sundays, March 11 and April 15. Admission will be free.
At OCMA, every second Sunday is free. “We draw large audiences on those Sundays,” said Kirsten Schmidt, spokeswoman for OCMA.
Meanwhile, Laguna’s museum is also considering adding other programing such as music on other Thursday nights, said curator Grace Kook Anderson. The third Thursday of the month often hosts pre-screening receptions for the Laguna Beach Film Society.