Anderson's announcement that he was leaving his post as The Melvin & Bren

Simon Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art for a job with the

Dallas Museum of Art brought a transformative chapter in the history of

Indianapolis' chief arts institution to a close.


a five-year period, Anderson presided over changes at the IMA that would make

it one of America's most respected encyclopedic museums.


Anderson's tenure, the IMA established itself as significant venue for

contemporary art, with the opening of 100 Acres, The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art

and Nature Park

. The museum also served as host for the United States Pavilion

at the 2011 Venice Biennale.


oversaw the museum's technological makeover, launching such projects as AMICO,

documenting the collections and activities of art museums, and ArtBabble, which

posts videos from museums around the world.


Anderson's watch, the IMA undertook a major design initiative and opened The


, a multi-purpose performance space. He championed policies and design

fixes that made the museum building one of the greenest facilities of its kind

in the United States, and succeeded in getting his fellow museum administrators

to adopt 1970 as the cut-off date when considering the acquisition of

archaeological material and ancient art.


was outspoken in his opposition to censorship. He joined a lawsuit against

every prosecutor in the State of Indiana to strike down a statute abridging

freedom of expression.


who starts his new job in January, recently met with NUVO in his office at the

IMA for an exit interview.


When you first arrived at the IMA, you revoked a recently levied admission fee,

making museum admission free of charge again. Can you revisit your thought

process at that time?


I do think a lot about how a museum is a resource for its public. Having spent

years looking at how museums operate financially, versus how they're perceived

to operate, I recognized that admission revenue is, for the most part outside

of Manhattan, a virtually negligible sum. The exceptions are spikes around

major, blockbuster shows that come and go. But, year-to-year, it isn't that

important — three-to--four percent of most museum budgets around the



It also seemed to be a statement about wanting the museum to be as publicly

accessible as possible.


That was the overarching goal, but you couldn't make it happen unless the other

ingredients were in the stew because if it were a financially unwise decision

it would have been hard to make. But it wasn't.


having paid parking now we hope that two things happen: one, we drive

membership so that people say, well, that's an aggravation; but I'm going to

finally join. It's kind of like NPR and WFYI, where you say, OK, I'm gonna do

this thing. Otherwise it's still pretty painless. For a carload of four people,

it's a buck-25.


we're trying to live within our means, but at the same time, be as open and

available as possible.


You led the IMA through a technological awakening. Why is technology important

for encyclopedic institutions?


I guess moving [to Indianapolis] was also moving to a place that wasn't the

center of anything other than Indiana. Hoosiers don't arrogate to themselves

the right to be central very much. That's a mindset that doesn't, in many

respects, seem appropriate. Being a good place to live, being a place which is

family-oriented, being a place which is convivial, is a high value set.


what I began to look for, when I arrived, were the ways this museum could

distinguish itself nationally, internationally, as well as serving a local

interest and need. Really making ourselves a place of convening seemed to me to

be in the spirit of this region and in the spirit of our city.


distinctive about what we do with technology is that unlike, say, MOMA [the

Museum of Modern Art] would go out and build a battleship and say, see what we

did? Aren't we great? We took an opposite tack. We said, what can we do with

technology that will benefit our constituents and benefit the field? Then we're

doing something that matters nationally and internationally, we're also

improving the field of art museums and, not coincidentally, we're giving something

to our visitors, whether it's the tap tour to experience exhibitions, whether

it's the Dashboard to learn more about how our museum operates, whether it's

the debut of online scholarly publishing that we've just announced with Chicago

that is going to make reading scholarship from our collections easy and



all been free, open-source, given away, grant-supported. The other magic bean

here was the change with federal grants, that we got very few of, to a lot of

federal grants, millions of dollars of federal grants, with federally

negotiated overhead rates, so when you get a big grant, part of the grant pays

for salaries. It benefits the bottom line.


was not, as some have painted it, a vanity project. It was financially responsible.

Innovation brought lots of new support to offset core expenses of operations,

particularly salary expenses.



You identified design as a major new dimension for the IMA. Yet, apart from a

small gallery and a shop that misfired, it's been hard to see what's happened

in this field since Craig Miller's blockbuster show, European Design Since



Has the design emphasis worked the way you wished it would?


You're right about visibility. But, in point of fact, in 2013 the IMA will open

the largest galleries of design arts in the western hemisphere, showing over

1,000 works that were acquired since the initiative began, with a comprehensive

display of late 20th and early 21st century design

unmatched in New York, San Francisco, Chicago.


Miller has been adroitly and assertively building a collection to the point

where I think it will be not only the largest suite of galleries, but one of

the most thoughtfully installed, accompanied by online educational tools. The

largest suite of galleries on two floors in the museum will be devoted to the

decorative and design arts on two floors in the Hulman pavilion. Eighteenth

Century and 19th Century will be on the second floor.


the third floor will be late 20th Century and early 21st.

It's staggering. The move there has been far greater than I could have hoped

for. It's true it hasn't been in the public eye, but that's part of the drama

that has yet to come. I think we'll be able to tell the story of the 20th

Century through design, picking up where we leave off with Pont-Aven, the

neo-impressionists, segueing into the moment in which modernism comes and

flowers. I think it will be a pilgrimage site for people from around the world.


What does building design into the museum's mission accomplish?


I think it does two things for this museum. One, it fills a gap in our capacity

to tell the story of the Industrial Revolution's legacy. We carry that

narrative of modernism into post modernism.


second challenge is that when our contemporary art department does remarkable,

leading edge projects with artists, there is an audience for that here. It's a

growing audience.


think the design arts will be for those folks who drive to Cincinnati to go to

IKEA, who go to Target. Museums have always collected creativity. We don't make

distinctions between types of creativity here. The fact this office has some

paintings in gold frames is a function of tradition but, as a classicist, I

don't make a distinction between paintings, sculpture, architecture, furniture.

To me, they're expressions of creativity and I think our museum is going to

benefit from having that open door for people who are aren't art lovers but can

say, well, they do have this incredible collection of furniture — and I

have furniture at home.


Contemporary art has flourished during your tenure. What is the role of

contemporary art in an encyclopedic museum?


Look, we're not unique. The Metropolitan Museum has just rented the Breuer

Building for 10 years from the Whitney Museum to have a 100,000 square foot bet

on contemporary art. The Art Institute of Chicago built a modern wing. You go

across the country, this is the new normal. The IMA is part of a much larger

awakening, a reframing of not letting contemporary art museums, in isolation,

define the landscape, but looking, instead, at the creative connections between

past and present that can enliven both. Chuck Close and I used to talk about

this a lot at the Whitney, as an artist and a board member. The weakness of a

museum that's devoted to contemporary art is the lack of oxygen that comes from

seeing great works of art from all time. Contemporary artists stand to learn

the most by working in a context where there is African art and Asian art and

old masters. That's what's exciting about grafting a vital contemporary program

on an encyclopedic mission.


You're talking about conversations that take place between museums and

artists.What about the

conversation contemporary art opens with the public?


Well, 100 Acres was the big bet because, clearly, you can't get a conversion

strategy that works if it's purely hermetic to galleries in your museum and

you're expecting the general public to care. That may happen, but it's a much

more difficult enterprise. Whereas 100 Acres was a bet that, since people like

parks, and we have a finite amount of green space in the city of Indianapolis,

maybe if we blend those two in the right way we can experiment and introduce

thousands of people a month to contemporary art. It's a basketball court. It's

a park within a park by Alfredo Jaar. The pavilion we did with Marlon Blackwell

is probably the most important work of contemporary architecture in the state.

It sits there quietly in the woods.


Speaking of 100 Acres, one of the interesting things during your tenure has

been the way the museum used art and nature, the creations of human beings and

creation. That's also been manifest in an approach to the museum building



We had to knit together a narrative about art and nature and design. It's in

our mission statement and the board understood the necessity of bringing those




You've been an outspoken advocate for the integration of the arts into public

policy. How would you characterize the current status of our situation in



I think on Nov. 9, 2011 the status improved dramatically. I think Mayor

Ballard's team is amenable today in a way that they weren't in their first term

to take a fresh look at how the city supports the arts. And I don't mean

dollars alone. I mean a voice at the senior levels of government, vested with

the responsibility for cultural affairs. This morning [deputy mayor] Michael

Huber said they would be willing to consider that. And, to me, that's the

single most impressive outcome of years of all of us saying, "C'mon."


an arts council, which is a regranting agency, shouldn't be mistaken for having

someone sitting at the table with the mayor everyday, deciding policy. The Arts


does a good job with its mandate, but their mandate is not to

articulate public policy. So we need that and I believe that's going to happen.

I knew Mayor Giuliani and, briefly, Mayor Bloomberg, when I was in New York.

And what happens when you have an official in charge of culture is you take

your chances. In Toronto, there was a center-left government and the museum

there had to be about education, community development. That government was

swept out of power in 1995 and the government became center-right. We pivoted

and became about tourism and urban planning. That's what you do: you pivot, and

look at a different gradient of the same enterprise.


You have envisioned new roles for the museum — as a center for

professional Research and Development and as a paid consultant to other

interests wishing to integrate the arts into their missions. What is the role

of the 21st century art museum?


Artists do R&D, after all, for a living. Their area of research tends to be

the human mind and human heart, and politics and sex and whatever else

interests them. We now have a science department in the museum because I felt

it was essential to undergird our treatment specialists in conservation with

science. Otherwise we lack the full arsenal of information about how to take

care of works of art.


also it was a way of saying we're in a city corridor focused on life sciences

and biotech. If this museum becomes part of that group of professionals which

is driving the city's economy in a real sense, we become more relevant. So our

senior conservation scientist is working with Eli Lilly, he's working with

forensic teams, Purdue's chemistry department. We're making ourselves more

relevant to a big swath of the city and the region and the state's economic and

research-focused industry.


higher education. I think the IMA will be conferring a PhD in conservation

science within two years — the first museum in the country to do this.

Technology research is also earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year at

the bottom line this year and last year that we did not have. Straight revenue.

Our board is very excited about it.


R&D is lifting the tide for all museums. The Boston Museum of Fine Art is

using our software for their mobile tours. Crystal Bridges is using our

software. It's helping the field, it's earning revenue. R&D is really about

lifting the museum's reputation, making us more integral to the landscape of

Indiana and earning serious revenue.


next arena, which is truly exciting, is visitor studies. We now have four PhDs

in our audience engagement department. One of them, who did her Doctorate at

the Sorbonne — she's an Italian national — is reinventing how the

online survey of visitor usage translates into what we do on-site in the

galleries. Within a couple of years I think this will be a world-renowned

center for visitor studies: understanding the motivation of people to come to

an art museum, intuiting what they need as a consequence of their motivation

and delivering on that. That's research that yields a direct, tangible benefit

to our public and it will bring in grants, which again, support the bottom



This sounds like a far cry from the early 20th century model of the

museum, which was designed for pubic uplift.


You're being an active participant in a local sphere and an international

sphere simultaneously. When a museum opened in 1870, it was there to train the

workingman in how to become civilized. In a sense, that's flipped. We're

learning from the public about their expectations and trying to tease out the

intentions of artists to be of interest to a broad public. Not corrupt or

change any interpretation of those intentions of artists, but recognize that

artspeak is not going to do the job.


tours that are the same, one size fits all, is a model we need to change. We

need to think about conversations with our visitors, not lecturing them.


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