Retooling the art and design of helmets

In a unique partnership with the Harley-Davidson Museum, the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design (MIAD) – Wisconsin’s only college devoted exclusively to the education of professional artists and designers – has kicked off the fall semester with the most ambitious cross-disciplinary project in the college’s history. "The Helmet Project" – involving 100 art and design students, 10 faculty members and the Museum’s professional staff – will be on view as the first feature exhibition at the Harley-Davidson Museum Garage from Oct. 23 – Nov. 8.

The Helmet Project challenged students to deconstruct the conventional notion of a helmet and re-envision its function and meaning through art and design that push visual and conceptual boundaries. Students are also creating the show – from exhibit fabrication and installation to exhibition graphics and marketing.

Under the project leadership of Harley-Davidson Museum Curatorial Director Jim Fricke, the dynamic history of helmets and the debate surrounding the helmet relative to motorcycling and other sports also comes alive through a display of Museum artifacts.

"Harley-Davidson is renowned for its iconic motorcycle designs – both the industrial design of the motorcycle and the artistic design of distinct paint, graphics, parts and accessories," said Fricke. "The Helmet Project was expressly developed to create an ambitious college-wide project focusing on art and design – skills that are very important to Harley-Davidson. Our rewarding partnership with MIAD has resulted in an exhibition that is informative, bold and fun and will interest fans of art and design, history, motorcycling, and pop culture."

In developing the concept for the project, the Harley-Davidson Museum challenged MIAD Sculpture, Integrated Studio Arts and Industrial Design students to react to and extend the rich history of helmet design. The project also challenged Interior Architecture + Design and Communication Design students to design, fabricate and install the exhibit, in collaboration with Harley-Davidson Museum professional staff.

The 17-day exhibit includes:

* A HeadDress activity area where visitors can create helmet art at the ever-evolving helmet display.
* "Doodle Your Noodle" – Kids can create their own "mini" helmet to take home with them at this design station.
* A special panelist discussion during Untold Stories – "Inside The Helmet Project" on Wednesday, Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. Gain insight into the history of helmets and hear stories about the two month collaborative project from MIAD, H-D Museum and industry expert panelists. Tickets are required for this limited-seating event.

In addition to Harley-Davidson staff, principal jury members providing guidance and input throughout the project are Michael Davidson, artist, design consultant and great-grandson of Harley-Davidson Motorcycle Company co-founder William A. Davidson; and James Donnelly, multidisciplinary designer and principal of Milwaukee’s The Design Office.

MIAD Provost David Martin said, "Our students have embraced this intensively educational experience, which is broadening not only their skills and real-world experience, but also their well of inspiration as related to art and design, and to the Harley-Davidson cultural and historical phenomenon."

The Harley-Davidson Museum is located at 400 West Canal Street in downtown Milwaukee, on the corner of 6th and Canal Streets. More than a nostalgia trip for motorcycle enthusiasts, the Harley-Davidson Museum offers a glimpse of American history and culture along like you’ve never seen it before. The Museum also features a restaurant, cafe, retail store and park-like outdoor spaces.

The Helmet Project is located in the Garage exhibition space west of the Museum building. Admission is included with Museum general admission and parking is free. Baby strollers are welcome and lockers are available for personal items. For more information, Museum hours and tickets, visit or call 877.436.8738.

MIAD is Wisconsin’s only college devoted exclusively to the education of professional artists and designers. Founded in 1974, it is accredited to award the bachelor of fine arts degree in 11 majors. With 80 percent of its 3,000 graduates using their innovative skills in Wisconsin, the college contributes a vital "brain gain" to the state that shapes its creative and economic future.