Belmont University’s Leu Art Gallery will host Elyse Luray of the PBS television series “History Detectives” as part of its American Experience exhibit, which will be open through May 14. The exhibit will showcase a variety of antique items owned by Belmont alumni, including furniture, photographs and even silverware.
According to the PBS Web site, Luray specializes in American cultural history and collectibles and is an expert in art history. Naturally, she should fit right in as a guest speaker for an exhibit featuring American antiques.
The question, however, is whether or not the Leu Art Gallery is well-known enough to draw a crowd to support a nationally-recognized television personality.
“The Leu isn’t treated like a big deal,” Belmont senior Brian Clark said. “I never know when it’s open or if they have new stuff. There seems to be no publicity whatsoever.”
Victoria Boone, director of the gallery, admitted that getting publicity for the exhibits can be a challenge, especially when trying to publicize outside the university. She cited the gallery’s trouble getting publicity in the Nashville Scene, a free local weekly paper, as an example.
“We have a very hard time getting coverage in the [Nashville] Scene,” Boone said. “[They] are an old boy network to me. … It’s a tight-knit group of young men in their 20s and they all kind of pat each other’s backs.”
However, things may be changing, as the gallery did receive coverage from The Tennessean when the Nashville paper decided to run a story about one of its exhibits last August.
In fact, Boone said that things have changed quite a bit for the gallery since she was hired as director five years ago. She was able to start organizing convocation events at the gallery three years ago, which she said has added tremendous visibility to the gallery for students.
The gallery, housed within Belmont’s Lila D. Bunch library, features four exhibits each year, and each opening also serves as a convocation event for students. The openings currently average between 200 and 250 students, which Boone said is a dramatic increase from when the events first started.
“It’s definitely increased over three years, but I would love to have more students and teachers show up,” she said.
Clark said that, other than one time when he went to the gallery out of curiosity, these convocation events have been his only reason for going.
“But I do think it’s a very cool opportunity for students,” he added.
Boone has been able to create a unique opportunity for students and the Nashville community by bringing in a variety of art from established professional artists that can be viewed free of charge.
Boone served as director of the Tennessee Arts Commission Gallery for 13 years, during which she got the opportunity to meet many established artists throughout middle Tennessee and the Southeast. She is able to draw from the knowledge and network yielded from this experience to select artists to display in the gallery.
The last exhibit featured at the gallery consisted of pieces by artist Gary Monroe that portrayed fairly provocative religious scenes of snake handlers.
“Everybody was very supportive,” Boone said when asked about the potential controversy involved with any art treading religious waters.
“It was very provocative and there were a lot of good debates and conversations, but no one thought it should be censored. At all.”
She was quick to commend Belmont for never censoring any of her selections for the gallery.
“They’ve never censored me, which I think is a very important point. … The administration has never put me in a compromising position,” Boone said.
Both Boone and Dr. Judy Bullington, chair of Belmont’s art department, consider the gallery to be quite a nice space for art exhibits.
“We have a very nice, decent gallery space. The lighting is great, which is very important,” Bullington said.
Within the past year, the gallery has had brand new flooring, walls, and lighting installed.
Bullington also mentioned that the university has added signage in order to attract more visitors and increase visibility.
“There’s a humongous sign on the library. I don’t know if people don’t see it or what,” Bullington said.
Boone is confident that a fair amount of students will show to see Luray and the American Experience exhibit, as it will be an opportunity for them to receive convocation credit.
However, beyond these convocation events, there is uncertainty as to what can be done to further publicize the gallery and bring in more students and, especially, non-students.
“It would be a nice thing for tourists to see,” Bullington said. “But whether they know about it or not and are going to take the time to find parking begs another question.”