Michael Allen: Constructing perspective at the Mulvane

The beholder's eye: Michael Allen sits in front of the Mulvane's most recent exhibition, "I Dream a World." His desire behind its installation was to create a central focus and comfortable experience for museum goers.

For anyone who has been to the Mulvane Museum chances are you’ve ogled and gawked at masterpieces ranging from photography to sculptures to relics and paintings. While your focus was on the artwork itself, hours were spent conceptualizing, visualizing, and constructing its placement on the walls of the Mulvane. The man behind all of this is the Mulvane’s Exhibition Coordinator and Technician and Washburn alum Michael Allen.

“I want the viewers to feel welcome and comfortable,” said Allen. “I want them to not feel like anything is off so everything has to be pretty precise, which ties back to construction. You can't build a wall, you can't install a sink or a ceiling fan that is off; it's got to be precise, it's got to be kind of exact, or it's not going to work right. So, all of those I think elements, just kind of come to me naturally.”

Allen is speaking of his background in construction, which claimed most of his younger years. The skillset created a unique advantage for him in his position at the Mulvane.

“I've been here ever since I graduated from Washburn with my BFA,” said Allen. “Those elements of being an artist and having a well rounded education at Washburn in the art department combined with my construction background, made me sort of feel like a great candidate to do this job.”

Studying art at Washburn gave Allen much of the knowledge he now uses to coordinate exhibit installations with an informed perspective.

“Whether it's symmetrical balance or rhythm, repeating patterns or sight lines that you learn in painting classes, you've got perspectives and things that you work on when installing exhibits. So, whether it’s juxtaposition or alternating, just all those things that you kind of learn as an artist, on how to look at something, what you're photographing what you're painting, what you're drawing...all those kinds of elements really fall into designing and installing an exhibit.”

Allen’s passion for art and life is undeniable to those who have worked alongside him, such as Melanie Lacasse, who interned with Allen in the spring of 2019 and is back at the Mulvane as a docent and front desk worker.

“I interned with Mike as a gallery assistant,” said Lacasse. “Along with learning about working in a museum and all of the moving parts involved, I learned a lot about life, family and teamwork just by talking with him. He’s a great guy and an awesome story teller.” 

Outside of the Mulvane, Allen pursues art by doing anything from designing tattoos to creating logos and tshirts for his kids’ sports teams.

“There’s always something,” he said. “ A lot of times I've been asked to design t-shirts and different things for sporting teams, for my kids basketball and soccer teams. I also was involved with the Aaron Douglas Art Fair which is a local art fair. I did their graphic design, all their posters and t-shirt designs and posters.” 

With every intricate thought and detailed plan that Allen commits to exhibition design and installation, one might enter the Mulvane with a renewed perspective and appreciation for something beyond the art itself.

“I encourage people to come to the Mulvane and come back to the Mulvane,” said Allen, “because every time they will get to see something new. We’re not static; that would make my job boring. If you haven't been here for a while, come back and see us again, because you're going to get to see something new.”

Edited by Adam White, Jason Morrison

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