Museum History

In the 1950s, the departments of music, speech, drama, art and architecture were housed as one unit in Burke Hall on the Main Campus of the University of Southwestern Louisiana (UL Lafayette). In the corridors and hallways exhibitions on loan and works were presented.

In 1957, the department for art and architecture moved into Brown Ayres Hall, a converted engineering building formerly located where Moody Hall stands today. Dr. R. Warren Robinson, head of the department, and William Moreland, Chair of the Fine Arts Section, formed the young art and architecture program into one of the most vital in the American South.

Simultaneously, Fred Daspit, Professor of Art, began organizing exhibitions of faculty members from universities throughout the South as well as impromptu exhibitions in which university faculty members would display objects they had collected. The growing popularity of the exhibition program prompted the conversion of an old 900 square foot boiler room located in Brown Ayres Hall to serve as a regular gallery space.

To expand the university's exhibitions program, Daspit contacted several foreign cultural counsels and U.S. museums to borrow exhibits. Through these efforts Daspit attracted the attention of collector W. E. Groves and architect A. Hays Town who gave the University its first major donations of artwork. The growing interest in the exhibitions and collections programs led to the desire for a separate museum building in which to house the collection and provide adequate space for traveling exhibitions.

In 1964, Lafayette businessman and philanthropist, Maurice Heymann donated three-acres of land located on the corner of East St. Mary Boulevard and Girard Park Drive for the purpose of building the Art Center for Southwestern Louisiana. The new Center, a replica of the Hermitage, a 19th century Louisiana River Road plantation house, was designed by architect A. Hays Town. In 1965, USL Foundation took on the task of planning for the construction and operation of the new Center. Starting with a fund of $100,000, the Foundation soon started a campaign to secure an additional $100,000.

Construction on the Center began in April of 1967 and the building opened to the public in March, 1968. Frances Love was hired as part-time Art Center director. Between 1968 and 1983 she organized a variety of exhibitions and social events that further established the Art Center as an important cultural asset for the people of Southwest Louisiana.

In 1977, the departments of Art and Architecture moved into the newly designed Joel L. Fletcher Hall and faculty member Herman Mhire was invited to serve as the director of the Gallery. In June of 1983, Frances Love resigned as director of the Art Center and Mhire was appointed to succeed her. He was charged with merging the older Art Center for Southwestern Louisiana and the Gallery of the School of Art and Architecture into the University Art Museum which would be housed in Fletcher Hall. 

In 2002, Lafayette residents, Paul and Lulu Hilliard, presented UL Lafayette a lead gift of $5 million for the construction of a new $8.4 million world-class museum establishing the largest exhibition space in the region from Houston to New Orleans. The new Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum opened in April of 2004.

A governance board comprised of representatives from the University and Public Foundation was established in May of 2005. In August of that year, Museum Director Herman Mhire - who had directed the museum for 27 years and whose vision made possible the new museum - retired. Deputy Director, Mark Tullos, was appointed Director in 2006 and hired the museum’s first Curator of Exhibitions, Dr. Lee Gray, who served the museum from April 2007 through January 2015. From 2013 to 2014, the museum's leadership transitioned with support from Interim Director Lance Harris. During this time, the Hilliard Society incorporated as the primary support group for the museum. In July 2014, LouAnne Greenwald was appointed Director. Under her leadership the museum has expanded its hours, staff and programs with a renewed focus on multidisciplinary collaborations across campus and a goal to provide life-long learning and inspiration to the community.

 

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