The university’s art museum grew out of the dedicated work of College of Art faculty who produced exhibitions in Brown Ayres Hall on campus to complement their students’ learning. In 1977 when the School of Art and Architecture moved into the newly constructed Joel L. Fletcher Hall, visual arts faculty member, Herman Mhire, was invited to serve as gallery director. As the exhibition program gained attention and recognition, a fundraising effort was championed by The Service League and other Lafayette-based philanthropists to create an art museum in Lafayette. Maurice Heymann donated the land and made a lead gift to support the campaign. Architect A. Hays Town designed the Art Center for Southwest Louisiana which opened to the public in 1968. Under the directorship of Frances Love, the Art Center offered exhibitions of fine and decorative arts as well as cultural programs to an eager and grateful community.
When Frances Love retired in 1983, Herman Mhire was charged with merging the Art Center and the Gallery of the School of Art and Architecture into the University Art Museum which would be housed in Fletcher Hall and in the Hays Town-designed building.
During Mhire’s tenure, the University Art Museum’s exhibitions, publications and symposia brought notable artists to the region and provided rich cultural experiences for campus and community. Responding to Mhire’s vision to build a new museum, Lafayette residents, Paul and Lulu Hilliard made a lead gift of $5 million in 2001 for the construction of a new $8.5 million state-of-the-art museum establishing the largest exhibition space in the region from Houston to New Orleans. The Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum (now Hilliard Art Museum) designed by Eskew Dumez and Ripple opened in April of 2004 and received seven national and regional awards including a national honor award from the American Institute of Architects.
Mhire served as Director and Chief Curator of Exhibitions until his retirement in 2005. Mark Tullos led the museum from 2006 through 2013 and hired curator, Lee Gray, who produced exhibitions at the Hilliard from 2007 through 2014.
LouAnne Greenwald was appointed director in 2014 with a vision to expand the museum as a center for campus and community engagement. During her tenure the museum has increased its hours and staff, and annual visitation has grown 300%. Curator Ben Hickey, appointed in 2017, produces a diverse range of exhibitions each year, and educator Olivia Morgan produces educational programs to make the arts accessible to all ages. The Hilliard Art Museum, with support from its campus and community, has become a cultural hub for our region.