Earlier this summer, Scott Stulen, Indianapolis Museum of Art Curator of Audience Experiences and Performance, announced his departure to become director of the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Okla. The first week of August is his last at the museum, so we spoke with Stulen about some of his work and where the IMA is headed.
NUVO: What kind of things did you want to do at the IMA that you couldn't because of the size of the institution?
Yeah, I think it’s more just the speed. Not so much that you can’t, but I think those things will happen eventually. But looking at things like what hours we are open — some basic things like that. We need to be open more evenings to meet audiences. I think that’s eventually going to happen over there, but it’s something that just can’t happen overnight as much as I wish it could. The one thing that I kind of regret, that I won’t get a chance to do myself there is working on a pretty major exhibition that was going to be in 2017 that may still go forward without me … was going to be taking some of my programing ideas and putting them into a gallery. I think that’s something that kind of interesting. But it’s important for an institution like the IMA, is to figure out what do these different experiments look like. It’s one thing to do them outside or in the garden, but it’s a whole other thing to do them inside in the gallery, and what does that look like and what does that mean for an institution.
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NUVO: What other kinds of changes do you see the IMA going through based on your time there?
I think the good thing is that I feel really confident that even in the short period of time I was able to have an impact and I think changed the trajectory for where they are going to head, not just for programming, but I think how the IMA engages audiences and the community ... I feel like the future of museums, and the IMA, the institution has to be vitally important to the community around it or it's going to struggle. ...
NUVO: What were your thoughts coming into the IMA about the admission price?
It is extreme and it's bit of a shift. The rollout of how it was announced to the community I think could have been done better. That's no secret. But overall I think the challenge comes to, making the experience there worth $18. If you are doing your job, it's not a question. You need to make what's there worth that. A lot of museums have gone through this where they have a free space then add a ticket price to it, and eventually the community comes around as long as the museum is doing things that are worthy of what that price is. ...
NUVO: Kill, marry and eat three things at the IMA
Okay, let's see. I'm going to work backwards. So eat: I'll put 100 Acres. There's a surprising amount of plants out there that you can eat, which I learned through having a forager out there and working with that. Which is one of those experiences I will always remember. Marry: I love the staff that I worked with. If I could steal them all and pack them in my suitcase and take them with me down to my next gig I totally would. They probably wouldn't appreciate that but I totally would and marry them. ... Kill: the thing I would kill would be some of the perceptions of the museum of being a place that is not for them and is static. I think one of the biggest things there, and it's a huge hurdle at the IMA ... is that people went on a fourth grade field trip and feel like they saw the whole museum then and they have no reason to go back. One of the big challenges is to kill that perception.