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Redefining the Experience at the Barrick

Museum director Alisha Kerlin is building a network of collaborators from disparate disciplines and inventing new ways to entice the community to campus.

Arts & Culture  |  Dec 7, 2017  |  By Juliet V. Casey
woman in gold dress

Alisha Kerlin, interim director of the Barrick Museum of Art, is one of the inaugural recipients of UNLV's Top Tier Awards. (Josh Hawkins/UNLV Creative Services)

Over the past year, exhibits, performances, and immersive events at UNLV’s Barrick Museum of Art have been engaging visitors and inspiring collaborations across campus and throughout the community.

It is redefining expectations of the art museum as a temple for refined masterpieces and artifacts.

Through visionary curating, the Barrick connects art, science, math and humanities in surprising ways. And folks across campus and the greater community are taking notice, with local news and lifestyle publications lauding its programming and contributions as a treasured resource for art and culture.

Its recently elevated profile is due in large part to Alisha Kerlin, who took over as interim director just over a year ago. She has been a driving force behind increased community programming and interdisciplinary collaboration at the Barrick.

Her efforts recently won high praise from UNLV officials, and has earned Kerlin one of three UNLV inaugural Top Tier Awards, which recognize work that meets the university’s gold standard for research, education, and community impact.

“There is a need – a demand, actually – for artistic and cultural experiences in our community,” Kerlin said. “I have been amazed by the outpouring of support for our events and artists. And I’ve been so touched that people across campus are willing to stretch their imaginations and bring incredible ideas to the museum.”

The Barrick was closed for renovations in 2012 when Kerlin first came to campus as an artist in residence. She had intended to stay just for eight weeks but fell in love with the community. She found her place at the Barrick as an exhibitions curator and archivist at the same time the Barrick was shifting from a standalone entity with a mix of natural history and art exhibits to become a vibrant component of the College of Fine Arts. That positioned the Barrick to be a contemporary art museum and accept the incoming Las Vegas Art Museum collection to its permanent collections.

Generating interdisciplinary programming and engaging the community has come naturally, Kerlin said, given the museum’s location at the heart of UNLV’s campus.

“We’re surrounded by experts in everything from engineering to music to science to English,” she said. “Everything I do is about swinging the doors open for all their ideas, getting those conversations and collaborations going. Before you know it, we’re all coming up with a common language and finding more ways our work can intertwine.”

Rochelle Hines, an assistant professor in UNLV’s psychology department, was inspired to pursue a project with Kerlin earlier this year after a conversation they had while staring at a Julie Oppermann painting on exhibit. The artwork features irregular edges, colors and contrast that create optical illusions, tricking the viewer’s visual perception.

This discussion prompted Hines to bring about 100 undergraduate physiological psychology students to the Barrick to view the art and study how the brain processes illusions.

“Alisha wants the Barrick to be a beacon for not only culture and creative activity for the Valley, but also to reflect UNLV's outstanding research and scholarship,” Hines said, adding that Kerlin’s approach positions the Barrick as a bridge between campus and the community, “because this amazing cultural resource is open and free to the public.”

Since then, Hines said the two have enjoyed sharing more ideas about exhibits and activities that could further show the interplay between art and science.

“Alisha doesn’t see divisions between disciplines, but rather sees ways that seemingly disparate fields of work can intersect,” Hine said. “We’ve enjoyed many conversations about how some of the best science is art, and how some of the best art is science.”

Louis Kavouras, chair and professor of modern and contemporary dance, said he has been drawn to working with Kerlin because of her contagious energy and her willingness to share different forms of art at the museum. His students have performed at the Barrick on several occasions.

“The Barrick is now a wonderful place to go and be inspired by the art, and also to share movement art,” he said. “In order to understand any of the arts you have to look at the sister arts that surround them. You can see that at the Barrick. To me, that is a Top Tier environment.”

His collaboration with the Barrick stemmed from an exhibition of masks, which he related to a series of modern dance pieces that incorporate the use of masks. His proposal to share the performance gained momentum, and in June led to the museum’s first “Art and Culture Day.” The event additionally incorporated interactive textile arts, mask-making and storytelling stations, based on items in the “Tested Ground” exhibition, which also was on display. Nearly 500 people, including a few hundred children from local summer day camps, families and members of the campus community, attended the event.

Nancy Uscher, dean of UNLV’s College of Fine Arts, said she shares Kerlin’s vision for the Barrick Museum as a home for interdisciplinary arts, as a space for experimentation, and as the intersection of community engagement, research, and education.

“From the humanistic perspective, the Barrick can be a place for healing, and it is a space in which people come together through the power of art.”

She noted that the museum’s most recent exhibit opening event on Oct. 6 was the Friday following the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival.

The museum’s celebration brought more than 600 visitors to its galleries to take in the “Preservation” exhibit (on display through Jan. 20). Visitors lingered under the soft white lights illuminating drawings, photographs, maps, and a monumental sculpture of the Glen Canyon Dam. Meanwhile, the harp music floated through the Xeric Garden courtyard.

The gallery spaces opened out onto campus where pathways between grassy malls and academic buildings led visitors of all ages on an “Art Walk.” That night, the campus came to life through live demonstrations of cutting-edge engineering, and performances of dance, theater, opera and jazz.

“Alisha Kerlin is an extraordinary UNLV citizen who has a deep understanding about how to bring the university and the community together,” Uscher said.

Visit the Marjorie Barrick Museum of Art website for hours and upcoming events information.