story and photos by Emily Hilley-Sierzchula
Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art hosted its second annual anti-Valentine’s Day bash, the Black Hearts Ball, Saturday night (Feb. 15), attracting the young and young-at-heart. The 500 guests were encouraged to dress in black and enjoy a variety of unique activities, from temporary tattoos to creating “evil ex voodoo dolls.”
The event was part of the museum’s artinfusion program, aimed at people ages “21 to 40-ish,” said Emily Ironside, member services manager at Crystal Bridges.
“We don’t turn away people over forty; young professionals have friends in all age groups,” she said.
Guests mingled while enjoying drinks, Asian-inspired cuisine from Eleven Restaurant, and dance music spun by DJ Robert Barron. The 20th century art gallery stayed open until 11 p.m. The silent disco, which debuted at the museum’s New Year’s Eve party, was back. Dancers donned headphones and boogied to music only they could hear.
“One of our guests Googled it and said silent discos are a big deal in Norway,” said volunteer Judy Schaap.
Attendance was twice what it was at last year’s Black Hearts Ball. Ironside credits a mix of social media marketing, word-of-mouth and “artinfusion ambassadors.” The 20 ambassadors “increase the buzz” around an event and brainstorm ideas for future events. The partnerships the museum has forged with Northwest Arkansas Emerging Leaders, the EngageNWA Partnership and the Walmart Foundation also has attracted young professionals to the museum.
“When we did the Black Hearts Ball last year it wasn’t intended to be an annual event but it was the most successful artinfusion event so we brought it back,” Ironside said.
She said it is too early to determine if the ball will be an annual event.
The purpose of artinfusion is to counter the impression that museums are formal and geared toward older crowds.
“We are trying to break down those barriers and make the museum accessible, hip, funky, cool,” Ironside explained.
The event was inspired by a similar affair at the Lincoln Center in New York City, where one of the museum’s development directors used to work.
“We’re always looking at what other organizations are doing, and we try to make those ideas better and fit our museum and our community,” Ironside said.