Kathy Nagler is one of the lucky ones. While many slave away at jobs for the benefits, or merely to make ends meet, Kathy Nagler works for one reason: the art.
“I am exhilarated by being around art. I honestly think art moves me in a way nothing else does. I get to walk through the gallery every day, and I get to be around this beautiful art that I love,” Nagler explains.
A 50-year-old mother of five, former curator and college art professor, Nagler is driven, determined and successful, and she hopes to bring the same strength of purpose — and love of art — to her new position as executive director of the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, or iMOCA.
While she has only been on the job about a month, Nagler’s past experience and hometown ties give her the tools to succeed. “I think the combination of having a strong art background and knowing the community will allow me to show things that will be meaningful for this audience,” she states. A strong art background includes time spent as curator of both Wabash College’s gallery and the contemporary collection at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and she cites her 20-plus years of collegiate teaching as particularly advantageous.
Education, Nagler hopes, is the key to making iMOCA viable in the Indianapolis community.
“Contemporary art is a hard sell, and in Indiana, arts are a hard sell,” she states. “We do a lot of education around our shows, and that’s one of the keys. The more education you can do, the better it is.”
For Nagler’s iMOCA, her initiatives include “Coffee and Conversation,” where patrons can converse with the artists, as well as iMOCA 101, semester-long classes taught by local college professors on such topics as film and photography.
“I think the key is to push the envelope, but to also do something that’s somewhat accessible. I am interested in doing things that will make people think, and sometimes you have to be a little on the edge to do that,” she explains.
But pushing the envelope is easy for Nagler at iMOCA, where she enjoys freedoms foreign to larger museums. “We’re so small that we can just come up with ideas and implement them. There’s no bureaucracy here, which is really great. There’s a lot of brainstorming.” Nagler’s brainstorming has produced ideas such as “iMOCA Projects,” a weekly film series of older, independent films (think Godard, Kubrick, etc.) that iMOCA will screen at Radio Radio starting in August and, more importantly, that do not screen anywhere else in Central Indiana.
Freedom from bureaucratic red tape also frees Nagler to select a wide range of contemporary art for iMOCA. “Unlike most museums, we only plan our exhibitions about six months in advance. We get the young artists, the ones who are just on the verge of making it big,” she asserts. Artists range from the local to the international, and media ranges from photography, to motorized sculpture, to erasers and packing tape, all in the name of broadening horizons.
Nagler knows, though, that she is lucky to have what she has. iMOCA relies on the generosity of the law offices of Katz & Korin for their museum space, and she knows that as a city-independent operation, her museum remains viable only as long as donors keep it that way. But as long as Nagler can continue to share what she loves, she is confident that her commitment to her patrons will succeed.
“I know that art changes lives. It gives something in their lives that they didn’t know they could have.”