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.”

Educational programming plays an essential role in the exhibition and integrates with the Arkansas Curriculum Frameworks in an innovative way, appealing to all learning styles, according to a press release. Gay Bechtelheimer, former El Dorado Public School Educator of the Year (2014) is developing curriculum for the experience after being appointed by the Governor to the Arkansas Arts Council. The educational programming will relate to current academic vocabularies and will address literacy in the arts, science, music and math, according to a press release.  

This site-specific, immersive installation of painted inflatable sculptures complemented with audio and lighting experiences draws upon the artists’ futuristic visions of extraterrestrial life forms and alien landscapes. The artist’s expansive imagination is influenced by a myriad of sources that helped shape this exhibition including: “bio-luminescent organisms, Aurora Borealis, 3D printed Martian habitats, cocoons, asteroids, Sci-Fi, invertebrates, jellyfish blooms, Star Trek episodes, astrological charts, weather balloons, Kraftwerk’s ‘The Robots,’ psychotropic drugs, disco, Laser Tag, tropical foliage, Saturday Night Fever, Bee Gees’ ‘Night Fever,’ beach balls, astronomy, self-help books, rock climbing holds, dinosaur egg fossils, space suits, the primordial ooze, and the story of the Garden of Eden,” according to a press release. Two choreographed performances will also take place in conjunction with the exhibition. Viewers are invited to come, sit, relax, and experience life in the AstroZone.

Ashley has visited El Dorado several times to develop her sense of place, including a visit to El Dorado High School last October to host a workshop for advanced placement students.

“I seek out moments where body-scape (human, animal and alien) and landscape (land, sea and outer-space) meet in my work. For ‘AstroZone,’ I encourage a sense of wonder and curiosity of the other, welcoming people into an uncanny, oddball world that is both extra-terrestrial and utterly kitsch,” she says about the exhibition. “I want people to recall the experience of looking up at natural phenomenon in the night sky, or deep down in the ocean, but that they also sense something else in the experience.”

Crystal Bridges has looked for statewide synergies to support its mission of providing access to art and to help make Arkansas a great place to live and play, according to a press release.

“It’s a natural fit for Crystal Bridges and Murphy Arts District to work together, as we each are focused on offering our communities access to the arts,” says Rod Bigelow, executive director and chief diversity and inclusion officer for the museum. “Through conversations with (the MAD) team, we felt Crystal Bridges’ expertise in visual arts could complement Murphy Arts District’s expertise in performing arts, broadening the range of arts experiences available in our state and throughout our region.”

The creative collaboration between both organizations has been a long time coming.

“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,” says Terry Stewart, MAD’s CEO. “This partnership is now a reality … and we could not be more excited and appreciative.”

“AstroZone” will be on display until April 4. For more information or sponsorship opportunities call 870-444-3007 or visit:


MAD, a production of El Dorado Festivals & Events, is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose mission is to create and sustain an arts and entertainment destination that acts as a catalyst for cultural and educational change for the region. It relies on the generous support of individuals, corporations, and foundations to develop and sustain programs that improve the quality of life in the community and region.

El Dorado, Ark., also known as “the pride of South Arkansas,” is a former oil boom town and a rising arts destination. Home to a 1920s oil rush that brought a flurry of industry to “Arkansas’ Original Boomtown.” The city also has had significant investments in economic development, education and corporate community sponsorship with forthcoming investments, including the notable El Dorado Promise, a unique college scholarship program established by Murphy Oil Corporation providing local El Dorado High School graduates tuition at any accredited two-and four-year educational institution in the U.S.