Lauren Nassef

Small galleries, nonprofit museums, and community art centers require partnerships with architects to fulfill their mission of bringing art to the public. “Art is not something that people feel is very accessible to them,” says Amanda Harrell-Seyburn, Assoc. AIA. A designer at East Arbor Architecture in East Lansing, Mich., Harrell-Seyburn leverages her background as a gallerist and curator to create functional and welcoming art spaces. “As a designer, I think about how I can make a space approachable but still maximize the opportunity to exhibit work,” she says. She hopes to encourage architects to understand their role in providing quality environments where the public can interact with art.

Historic or even underutilized buildings present some of the richest opportunities for galleries, large-scale installations, or incongruities that make us rethink spaces that we have taken for granted, or that we might not have ever noticed before. “So often, a building is saved by a visual art space moving into it,” Harrell-Seyburn says. “It’s ideal because the community already cares for that building and has embraced it.”

These four organizations, all housed in a redesigned or historic structure, demonstrate how architects are enhancing access to visual arts across the country.

Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center— Lansing, Mich.

For over 30 years, the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center has been a cultural resource for the citizens of Michigan’s capital. Now situated in the lower level of a former 20th-century department store, the headquarters boast a subterranean retail gallery representing more than 100 Michigan-based artists as well as exhibition and education spaces. Committed to inclusive programming, the organization expands its impact via a large-scale public project, ARTpath. The gallery benefits from a sustained relationship with Harrell-Seyburn, who regularly provides pro bono design services ranging from simple structural fixes to space planning for annual shows and events.

Academy Art Museum—Easton, Maryland

A cultural staple of Maryland’s Eastern Shore for 60 years, the Academy Art Museum promotes visual arts education, practice, and appreciation for local residents as well as a national audience that flocks to Easton for annual cultural and heritage festivals. Built from a block of 19th-century historic houses, Academy Art Museum buildings include art studios, exhibition galleries, and flexible spaces that support a broad range of media and techniques. The museum is currently undergoing an entry expansion project, designed by Baltimore-based Ziger|Snead Architects. Its new entrance is grounded by a welcoming glass cube—rotating on a 45-degree angle—that will serve as a new hub for the community, honoring the historic structures and echoing the organization’s forward-looking mission.

The Volland Store—Alma, Kans.

After the Volland Store sat idle for 40 years, two local residents bought and transformed the former mercantile and post office into an art space, honoring the building’s history as an unlikely gathering place in Kansas’ Flint Hills region. The organization’s mission is to bring new ideas into the community and build common ground for rural and urban citizens. To bring this mission to life, Kansas City firm El Dorado and interior designer George Terbovich envisioned a flexible contemporary space within the historic brick building. Since its 2015 reopening, the Volland Store’s programs and exhibits have spanned the arts and sciences, inspired by conservation efforts for the area’s endangered tall grass prairie ecosystem. As part of their ongoing relationship with El Dorado—which recently brought on an art curator as principal—Volland Store is building an arts and humanities residency program to engage artists, writers, and thinkers with the communities and landscape of Flint Hills.

Ashé Cultural Arts Center—New Orleans

A centerpiece of the historic Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard in New Orleans’ Central City district, the Ashé Cultural Arts Center (CAC) offers creative activities that emphasize all artistic disciplines. Bringing to light narratives of people of color, Ashé CAC utilizes culture and art to heal, strengthen, and engage its community. A new collaborative design for the center’s main space—one part of its 18,200-squarefoot multiuse facility—is in development. Led by Steven Bingler, AIA, of Concordia, artists and musicians are contributing to the project, which welcomes the public in a contemporary setting that honors African antiquity and its history in New Orleans. Centered on a curving “Bamboula” wall inspired by the African-based rhythms at the core of jazz and African-American music, the design includes an inviting public visitors center, marketplace, restrooms, and a nursing lounge, in addition to performance and exhibition spaces.