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Walden Magazine // Jul 14, 2017

Beyond The Degree: Big Art in Small Spaces

Dr. Carol Ikard searches for ways to put art appreciation at our fingertips

Carol Ikard
Dr. Carol Ikard

While discussing her doctoral research on contemporary methods to make art accessible, Dr. Carol Ikard ’16 excuses herself. Her granddaughter’s movie is over, and she needs to put another one in the DVD player.

“That’s what I’m talking about,” she says. “People need art brought to them.”

Ikard’s passion for sharing the arts is as big as her beloved state of Texas, but she’s also a realist. She knows that to reach people, we must find ways to literally put art in their hands.

In 2007, Ikard was designing online training curricula for companies when she read about a Minnesota fiber arts museum. She liked the idea of promoting and educating about an art form based on natural fibers and decided she wanted to work for the Texas version of the museum. When she realized there wasn’t one, she started it herself.

The Texas Museum of Fiber Arts (TMFA) opened in 2009 and reflects Ikard’s belief in the value of sharing art. Instead of a traditional brick-and-mortar location, the TMFA has no walls. Like taking a movie to her granddaughter, Ikard and the TMFA take educational activities and art exhibits to where people work and live.

“You have to get people’s attention,” Ikard says. “Unless art becomes part of the mobile culture like music, movies, and online games, traditional museums may become mortuaries.”

When the TMFA opened, it began exhibiting work by Texas artists who use natural fibers from wool and cotton and synthetic fibers from oil. Exhibits were placed in high-traffic areas, from the state capitol to the Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American Cultural Center.

They were successful on several levels: When people saw the quilts, tapestries, weavings, beaded art, and even a car artfully covered in yarn, they became aware of fiber arts, and the art form advanced. That success helped take Ikard’s vision to a more focused level.

“I noticed in a downtown office lobby exhibit that people walked through the exhibit but weren’t engaging,” she says. “A lot of them were looking at their phones.”

How do you bring art to a world driven by smartphones and technology?

Ikard enrolled at Walden for her Doctor of Education. Her dissertation, Aesthetic Experience, Flow, and Smart Technology: Viewing Art in a Virtual Environment, provides an in-depth look into how to extend the visual arts through technology. Her research showed art viewed on mobile technologies can produce an aesthetic experience. In other words, if smartphone video games and dating sites can stimulate you to a response, so can art.

Ikard has a broad writing background, from co-authoring the book Touching Fiber Arts to completing screenplays and children’s books. As such, she’s not prepared to develop the next smartphone art app, but she will continue to think, research, and write about it.

“Art is the answer to everything,” she says. “We begin to understand each other when we share art. We need to keep working to find ways to bring art to people who look down at their cellphones. Technology is the new vanguard of our culture. The future is literally in our hands.”