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Posted Feb 2, 2020 - Arkansas Democrat Gazette

Full article here.

Posted Feb 1, 2020 - Arkansas Democrat Gazette

El Dorado's Murphy Art District has embarked on a bold new adventure.

Arkansas Democrat Gazette
El Dorado resident John Lowery, left, and Laura Allen, right, react to a live performance before the opening of AstroZone, an interactive art exhibit, at the First Financial Music Hall on Friday, Jan. 1, 2019.


"AstroZone: An Interactive Art Experience" opened to the public at 10 a.m. Saturday. The project, a cooperative exhibition with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, presents Chicago-based artist Claire Helen Ashley's immense inflatable pieces in different shapes and colors suspended from the ceiling as well as floor level placements.

This site specific, immersive installation, complemented with audio and lighting experiences, draws upon the artist's futuristic visions of extra-terrestrial life forms and alien landscapes.

"I encourage a sense of wonder and curiosity in the uncanny, oddball world that is both extra-terrestrial and utterly kitsch," the artist says. "I want people to recall the experience of looking up at the natural phenomena in the night sky, or deep down in the ocean, but they sense something else in the experience."

Full gallery here.

Posted January 31, 2020 - El Dorado News Times

Interactive art exhibit 'AstroZone' opens at music hall

EL Dorado News Times
A family moves around a bean bag chair while looking at inflatable sculptures made by Claire Helen Ashley as part of the Astrozone exhibit Jan 30. The exhibit, in partnership with Crystal Bridges, opens Feb 1st at the First Financial Music Hall.


Full article here.

Posted January 29, 2020 - Arkansas Times

El Dorado’s Murphy Arts District and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art have collaborated to bring an immersive art, sound and science exhibition to the First Financial Music Hall, where Chicago artist Claire Helen Ashley’s giant inflatable sculptures are installed along with music and lighting. Ashley designed the exhibition specifically for the hall; some of the sculptures, inspired by land, sea and outer space visions, are hung from the ceiling and some are floor level so visitors can walk among them.

Posted January 26, 2020 - Arkansas Democrat Gazette

A state of arts: Exhibitions in 2020 will cover Arkansas with myriad examples in galleries and museums

• Murphy Arts District, El Dorado, (870) 444-3007,

"Astrozone: An Interactive Art Experience," a partnership with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Saturday-April 4, First Financial Music Hall, 101 E. Locust St., El Dorado

Posted January 23, 2020 -

An interactive art exhibition is a little over a week away from making its first debut in El Dorado. 

Claire Ashley is the mastermind behind the display that will feature a room filled with immense and colorful inflatable art pieces.

She is from Edinburg, Scotland but has been in Chicago for the past 26 years. She came for graduate school at the School of Art Institute of Chicago and now teaches classes at the art and design school.

Her work has been featured at galleries in Chicago and Boston and she also has an online portfolio. Most recently, her inflatable pieces of art were featured at the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art in Bentonville.

“They invited me to put in a proposal for the Murphy Arts District,” Ashley said. “They were looking for an artist to come in and take over this black box music hall venue.”

That’s exactly what Ashley has done. El Dorado’s Murphy Arts District First Financial Music Hall has turned into an art gallery. It will feature Ashley’s work from February 1st until April 4th.

“This is the first time that Crystal Bridges has collaborated with any organization,” MAD Education Manager, Gay Bechtelheimer said. “They really felt like El Dorado was the perfect match.”

If you think this is just for display, then think again. There’s an educational component from literacy to the arts. MAD will give students tours three times a day for schools. Over 6,00 students will have a chance to view the exhibition and then write about it on-site. 

“It is a literacy project that is integrated with the exhibition,” Bechtelheimer said. “They are from areas across our region from Ashley County to Lincoln Parish.”

Ashley has already been interacting with students who are interested in the arts. Louisiana Tech students received a behind the scenes look and was able to have a small group dialogue with her about what it took to design and install the inflatables.

She will also visit students at Southern Arkansas University in Magnolia to do a workshop on how to turn inflatable materials into works of art.

Ashley hopes the art will spark an inner awakening in others.

“I really try and preach what I practice in my own making which is not that everybody makes the same thing but that everyone pays attention to their own inspiration, their own experiences and their own cultural relationships.” Ashley said.

The exhibition will be on display Feb. 1 through April 4 from 10 a.m. to 6 pm. at El Dorado’s Murphy Arts District First Financial Music Hall. Monday’s are reserved for student tours only.

It is a free and kid-friendly display. Click here for a video from Gabrielle Phifer

Posted January 23, 2020 - KTVE 10 /KARD 14

Posted January 23, 2020 -

The Murphy Arts District’s educational outreach program is bringing artist Claire Ashley to the Magnolia Arts Center on Thursday.

She will work with Southern Arkansas University art students in a one-day installation workshop in Magnolia.

This is a preview of “AstroZone: An Interactive Arts Exhibition” that will be on display at First Financial Music Hall in El Dorado from February 1-April 4.

The public is invited to visit the Magnolia Arts Center starting at 4 p.m. as the SAU students turn inflatable material into works of art.

The installation will be up at the Magnolia Arts Center until January 31.

Ashley’s work investigates inflatable as painting, sculpture, installation and performance costume. These works have been exhibited nationally and internationally in galleries, museums, and site-specific installations, performances and collaborations.

Originally from Edinburg, Scotland, Ashley is now Chicago based, and teaches at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in the Department of Contemporary Practices, and the Department of Painting and Drawing.

“AstroZone: An Interactive Arts Exhibition” is the first art exhibition at MAD in what is hoped to be a continuing relationship with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. The partnership represents the first time Crystal Bridges has curated an off-site exhibition with a partner organization.

Published in the Winter 2020/Vol 12, No.5 - Arkansas Life Magazine

Arkansas Life

Posted January 8, 2020 - Idle Class Magazine

Murphy Arts District to partner with Crystal Bridges for “AstroZone: An Interactive Art Experience”

Murphy Arts District (MAD) and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art have partnered up to present a unique, interactive exhibition in the First Financial Music Hall in El Dorado on Feb. 1. The exhibition, called “AstroZone: An Interactive Art Experience” will be the first art exhibition in MAD, in hopes to continue collaborations with Crystal Bridges in the future. This is a first for Crystal Bridges as well: the museum has not curated an off-site exhibition with a partner organization before this one, according to a press release.

The exhibition is slated to fill the First Financial Music Hall–MAD will present Chicago-based artist Claire Helen Ashley’s immense inflatable pieces in different shapes and colors suspended from the ceiling as well as floor-level experiences. 

“’AstroZone’ is an immersive art experience that will connect viewers to each other through Claire Helen Ashley’s inflatable sculptures, similar to the way her playful works engaged visitors in the Color Field exhibition at Crystal Bridges this past summer,” says Allison Glenn, Crystal Bridges associate curator of contemporary art. “I’m excited to see how the site-specific work activates this new space and sparks conversations about art, sound, and science.” ...continue reading

October 2, 2019 - El Dorado News Times

An interactive art exhibit — Murphy Arts District’s first one — will open in February 2020 at the First Financial Music Hall.

The free exhibit, called “AstroZone: An Interactive Art Experience,” will feature painted inflatable sculptures by Chicago-based artist Claire Helen Ashley. The exhibit is a partnership with Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.

MAD CEO Terry Stewart said in a press release that the organization and Crystal Bridges has been discussing a collaborative partnership for a while.

“Even before the opening of MAD, we’ve all had a collective vision of diversifying our programmatic offerings beyond the performing arts and our culinary experiences,” Stewart said.

MAD chief marketing officer Bob Tarren said Crystal Bridges’ curatorial and leadership staff worked with MAD to figure out what the the El Dorado audience would respond to and find interesting.

“We are really, really excited. Our mission is to provide a variety of arts and entertainment offerings. I might even say culturally art and entertainment offerings,” Tarren said. “This is right in the middle of the wheelhouse there of expanding what we bring to the public.” ...continue reading