Reflections on Maxwell Anderson's exit

Maxwell Anderson in 2008

  • Maxwell Anderson in 2008

The news that

the Indianapolis Museum of Art's CEO, Maxwell Anderson, has decided to leave the city

for a post in Dallas promises to be as close to a seismic event as it gets in these parts.

It's a measure of Anderson's impact that so many of us have simply gotten used to thinking of the IMA as the go-to destination for an up-to-date, cosmopolitan perspective on what's happening in the worlds of visual arts and design. That this has been accomplished in a mere five-and-a-half years reflects the extent of Anderson's seemingly unquenchable ambition, as well as the hunger a significant portion of the local community has developed for the kinds of experiences that were previously only been available in other cities.

Ambition is the key word here. Anderson brought it — and did so without apology or embarrassment. This set him apart in Indianapolis, where being a so-called "team player" has been traditionally valued above all other virtues. Anderson's elbows could be sharp, and this caused some among his peers and colleagues to wonder about whether he truly "fit in."

In fact, Anderson demonstrated the way a cultural institution can not just put itself on the map, but bend the contours of its geography. This was not always a comfortable, or a uniformly successful process. There was some overreaching, some initiatives that looked good on paper but failed to sustain themselves. That being said, Anderson got what few local cultural administrators have ever fully grasped — that the key to institutional success cannot be based on never-ending appeals for support but, rather, on knowing how to make real, legitimate news.

The IMA has been making news in its field and has attracted the attention of people around the world. This is Anderson's legacy, and it represents a challenge to his successor, whoever that may be.

But the major challenge now lies with the IMA's board. Let's hope their ambition for the institution they represent is equal to Anderson's.


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