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Watts: The Suburbanization of the IMA

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Newfields

“Newfields,” the new brand for the institution formerly known as the Indianapolis Museum of Art, is more notable for what it does not say than for what it does.

It is not primarily concerned with art.

It is not in the city of Indianapolis.

And, most emphatically, it is no longer a museum.

Before I get to the consequence of these pointed omissions, let me begin with two concessions.

First, in some theoretical and hypothetical way, the name of the Indianapolis Museum of Art still exists. While the letterhead, website and sign on 38th Street all now proclaim the Newfields name, the IMA exists as part of the new brand. As Charles Venable, director of the institution formerly known as the IMA explained, in his announcement, “The Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Garden, Lilly House, and The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres will all continue to exist as key attractions at Newfields, a Place for Nature and the Arts.”

In other words, this is a marketing stunt. We can now think of the IMA as comparable to the Big-K sub-brand at Kroger. If you root around on the bottom shelf, you may be able to find the Indianapolis Museum of Art, next to the Big-K spaghetti sauce. But your destination is Newfields, or Kroger, not Big-K, or the IMA.

Second, “Indianapolis Museum of Art” is not the original name of this 135-year-old institution. The original organization came into being in 1883 as the “Art Association of Indianapolis.” In 1895, the fledgling institution received a bequest from John Herron, a wealthy local real estate developer. As a result of this bequest, the organization purchased a plot of land at 16th and Pennsylvania and opened the John Herron Institute of Art, housing both an art gallery and an art school, in 1906.

For more than 60 years, both the art museum and the school were located on the 16th Street campus under the Herron Institute name. In 1967, it became necessary, for accreditation purposes, to separate the museum and the school. In that year, the Herron School was transferred to Indiana University, and it persists, in name at least, on the IUPUI campus.

In 1966, J.K and Ruth Lilly donated Oldfields, the family estate bordered by Maple (now 38th) Street and Michigan Road to the Art Association. In preparation for the move to this new campus, the Art Association changed its name, in 1969, to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Thus, the IMA was born in 1969, and it moved to its new campus in 1970.

As suggested in the authorized history of the IMA, Every Way Possible: 125 Years of the Indianapolis Museum of Art¸ published in 2008, this new name represented a kind of promise to the city of Indianapolis. Throughout the 1960s, as the museum looked for more space, there were concerns that moving to the edge of the city would sever the museum’s relationship to Indianapolis. At a protest in 1962, “One person stated that the Herron Museum belonged to all citizens, not just to the wealthy or to families with automobiles. Others spoke of the need to keep the city’s core strong and the obligations of institutions like the Museum to stay in a central location.” In renaming itself, the museum was seeking to allay these concerns, and to say that, even as it moved from its central location, it remained committed to the city of Indianapolis and to its citizens.

Thus, in renaming itself “Newfields,” the former museum is reversing not the 135-year history of the institution, but the 50-year history of the IMA. Crucially, however, this new name reneges on the museum’s commitment to the city. In important ways, the museum is no longer in or of the city of Indianapolis.

To begin with, the “Newfields” name has no local resonance. Yes, some people in the city know that the original name of the Lilly estate was “Oldfields.” And, yes, the Lilly family played with that name by designating the children’s house on the estate as “Newfields.” But, the inevitable reaction of people who have lived in the city and known the museum over the years is, “What? Where did that come from?”

I can see how the name might appeal to a professional marketer from Brooklyn, or Bel Aire, or Bogota, making a pitch to the director of the IMA: “Newfields, it’s like Oldfields, but it’s new, get it? Get it?”

The rebranding reminds me of another infamous and ill-fated branding effort in the city.  When the city’s venerable hospitals, Methodist and University, merged a few years ago, they hired a marketing company to come up with a new name for the organization.  They called it “Clarian,” and they made a similar pitch: “Clarian, it’s like clarion, as in ‘clarion call,” but it has an ‘a’ instead of an ‘o.’ Get it? Get it?”

The Clarian name had no meaning for people who had a long attachment to Methodist and University hospitals. The name did not last, and the organization now calls itself “Indiana University Health.” I predict a similar future for the ill-conceived Newfields. It's a nowhere name.

In a physical sense, Newfields has also removed itself from the city of Indianapolis. Like many long-term members of the museum, I first caught wind of the changes to come two years ago, when the IMA suddenly closed its pedestrian entrance on 42nd Street, and began building a series of internal barriers where none had existed before. These moves effectively closed the museum to the surrounding neighborhood, and ended access to the upper grounds for pedestrians and cyclists. I refer to this stage of development as the “fortification of the IMA.” Others began calling it an “art prison.”

At the same time that it closed access to pedestrians, the museum also eliminated its charge for parking, and effectively made the grounds a landing pad for suburbanites from Zionsville, Carmel and Fishers seeking a bucolic experience. When he explained these changes, Venable emphasized his desire to make the museum grounds comfortable for pedestrians, and to maintain a “level of tranquility and atmosphere” for patrons.  

In taking measures for internal tranquility, however, Venable forced pedestrians and cyclists coming to the museum to travel through the intersection of 38th Street and Michigan Road, one of the most dangerous in the city. And, there is still no sidewalk that leads from the old pedestrian entrance to the automobile entrances pedestrians are now forced to use. Newfields is the fulfillment of the worry expressed by the protester in 1962 that the museum would become accessible only “to the wealthy or to families with automobiles.”

This move to cut the museum off from local residents and from pedestrians and cyclists is all the more appalling because it flies in the face of recent developments in the city. While there is still much to be done, Indianapolis has made impressive strides in becoming more friendly to cyclists and pedestrians. Since the construction of the Monon Trail in 1999, the city has developed a remarkable network of trails that run along that run along Fall Creek, White River, Pleasant Run, and Pogue’s Run. During the Ballard years, we went from zero to 80 miles of bike lanes, with more now under development. And, the city is rightfully proud of its Cultural Trail, which connects downtown neighborhoods and cultural destinations with a Danish-style pedestrian and cycling trail.

In my view, the IMA should have been actively working to connect itself with this developing system of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure. Ray Irvin, the architecture of our Greenways system, always spoke of his passion for “connectivity” as the guiding force in his efforts. He wanted to create ways for people to move from one area to another in the city without having to get in a car. The IMA could and should have been working to connect itself with its neighbors and other institutions. It should have joined partners in Midtown to bring the bike share program to the area, and to extend the Cultural Trail to its gates. It should have become more, not less accessible to pedestrians. In this regard, the anti-urbanist agenda of Venable and the IMA board has been damaging both to the institution and to the city as a whole.

The fortification of the IMA was part of its efforts to raise additional funds by instituting a charge of $18 for admission not only to the museum, but also to the grounds, both of which had previously been free. To justify what would inevitably be viewed as a very high price of admission to the museum, patrons were offered access not just to the art within the buildings walls, but also to some of the most cherished outdoor spaces in the city. In addition, this strategy was designed to encourage more people to join the museum. Rather than pay $18 for a single entrance, patrons could pay $50 to $80 per year (subsequently raised to $55 to $100). The fortification was, then, a plan to monetize the grounds, and nudge more people into membership.

In an effort to draw more visitors and members to the IMA, the museum began de-emphasizing its art collections and developing outdoor attractions. Venable pointed to studies that showed that potential patrons from the central Indiana were relatively uninterested in art, but would be interested in “curated outdoor experiences.” In keeping with this line of thinking, the museum built a beer garden in one part of the greenhouse, brought back a popular putt-putt golf course designed by artists, planted thousands of bulbs for a spring flower show, and put on a large-scale display of Christmas lights. In these various ways, then, the museum was to become less a museum and more like an 18th century pleasure garden.  

In responding to these changes, both critics and defenders of Newfields have used the word “elite.” Opponents suggest that the $18 admission charge makes the institution less accessible to citizens of the city, and therefore makes it more elite. Those who criticize the museum for turning away from art and toward beer gardens and putt-putt golf have been called “elitists” by defenders of Newfields, who defend a more populist and accessible approach to the former museum.

"LOVE" by Robert Indiana at the IMA at Newfields

"LOVE" by Robert Indiana at the IMA at Newfields

To my mind, the word “elite” doesn’t really work very well in either direction. I don’t think it unreasonable to impose an admission charge to the museum, although I shall have more to say below about how this charge was imposed and justified. On the other hand, there has long been a populist strain at the IMA; it is the home of both Van Gogh’s “Enclosed Field with Peasant” and Robert Indiana’s “LOVE.” Personally, I have no objection to the beer garden, the winter lights exhibit or the putt-putt golf. But, I still want a serious art museum.

And, here, I think, there is real reason to worry. The energy and resources of the institution seem to be flowing toward these “curated outdoor experiences,” and away from art. One way to see this is in the special exhibitions of the museum. The IMA had a very good record of bringing in exhibits that connected its patrons with developments in the rest of the world.  In recent years, I have enjoyed and learned from exhibits on Matisse, Georgia O'Keeffe, the Craftsman art movement, and art from Fontainebleau. I especially appreciated the 2013 exhibit of the works of the Chinese artist, Ai Wei Wei. I had read a lot about this artist, and I was grateful for and moved by the opportunity to see his works up close and in Indianapolis.

When the changes in the museum got underway, I asked Charles Venable, in a private exchange, whether we would have exhibitions like the one focusing on Ai Wei Wei in the future. He responded that we would, but that the museum would have to take greater care to make sure that these exhibitions paid for themselves. But, the record of the past three years has been unimpressive, and exhibitions for the foreseeable future look to be low-key affairs, drawing mostly on the IMA’s own collections. We seem to have gotten putt-putt golf instead of, and not in addition to, Ai Wei Wei. And, that seems, to me, a real loss.

For me, the changes that have accompanied the Newfields branding campaign have been discouraging in and of themselves. But, the pain has been compounded by the ways in which Charles Venable, the director, and Thomas Hiatt, the chair of the board of governors, have explained and justified them. In particular, I object to their suggestion that these changes were necessary, in light of the financial needs of the institution, and that they have already proven successful.

In coming to grips with what has happened to our cherished institution, one must understand that the IMA was in some financial difficulty. These difficulties came from a variety of factors, including a decline in the value of the museum’s endowment (now over $350 million) during and after the Great Recession, and the accumulation of about $100 million in debt from recent expansions of the museum. These two factors meant that, even after a round of staff reductions, the museum was drawing more than the 5 percent from its endowment that is customary and prudent to support its operations. It is my understanding that the board charged Venable with bringing this drawback to 5 percent over a number of years.

Without entering too deeply into the finances of the IMA, and without claiming financial expertise I do not possess, it seems to me that this situation called for adjustments but not for panic. One could have imagined any number of other ways of responding, without locking down the grounds, renaming the 135-year-old institution, and shifting the focus from art to “curated outdoor experiences.” One obvious course of action would have been to raise admission to the Museum to a more palatable $10 to $12, and to allow citizens of the city to continue to enjoy the grounds, as they had for more than 50 years. Going from free to a charge for each visit to the museum would surely have created a substantial new revenue stream, with little disruption or added expense.

In justifying this course of action, Venable and Hiatt have pointed to a record number of members of the museum-formerly-known-as-IMA. Newfields now has more than 17,000 members, but this is not a terribly impressive number. One can point to comparable or lesser museums with higher membership. In the 1970s, when the museum did not charge an entrance fee, it claimed more than 12,000 members. The mere imposition of an entrance fee, where none existed before, is bound to drive membership up. And, it seems to me, this would have happened whether the IMA charged $12 for admission, and allowed the public free admission to the grounds, or charged $18 and closed the grounds.

Perhaps more than anything, though, I am disturbed by the lack of accountability of Venable and the board to members and to the general public. I have a relationship with the IMA that goes back to the early ‘70s, when I bought a membership from earnings from my newspaper route. I understand that, as an individual member, I cannot expect to have a voice in the direction of the Museum. Nevertheless, I have been astonished by how little interest the leadership and board of the IMA have in what members think about these changes. There is quite a bit of discontent with the direction of the museum among long-time members and even some donors, but Venable and Hiatt seem to have insulated themselves from this criticism.

I understand the fiduciary responsibility of the board, and the imperative they must honor to ensure the long-term solvency of the museum. But, I think they have other obligations as well. The IMA has grown through the generosity of generations of donors, and through the tax-protection enjoyed by both the institution and its endowment. While it is a private institution, it has commitments to the public and to the ages.  I am not sure the museum is fully honoring those commitments.

In many ways, it is fitting that Newfields has been unveiled under the Trump administration. My attitude toward Newfields parallels my attitudes to this country under Trump: I object strenuously to the policies, overall direction and communication practices of this administration, but I do not wish for the enterprise to fail. After the fortification of the IMA, I refused to renew my membership, and I boycotted the museum. After a year, though, I came back for one year.  Then I let my membership lapse again, feeling no real warmth for the Newfields branding.

I expect that I will be back again. I can only hope, though, that this ill-considered effort to make the IMA great again will pass, and that new and wiser leadership will one day work with the community, rather than against it, to create a better and stronger museum.

Bill Watts professes English and directs the First-Year Seminar program at Butler University.

Bill Watts professes English and directs the First-Year Seminar program at Butler University.

(11) comments

Terry Wilson

Thank you so much for this article. It captures so much of what I feel about what has been done to my formerly beloved IMA, which still stings every day when I pass pay the closed and locked gate on 42nd street.

My family and I live just east of the museum, and for years we were members and would take the trails past CTS into the gate. Half of my garden was purchased at the Elder Greenhouse. And right when the city started making real efforts to connect for bicycles and pedestrians, IMA put up these ridiculous gates to close themselves off to local traffic and stopped charging for parking, making a clear statement as to the type of people they wanted to cater to going forward. People not from around the museum.

Not only that but the museum seems to have stopped measuring their success by the quality of their collection and exhibits or their cultural influence on the community, but now measure if they're doing a good job as an institution via membership numbers and retweets to justify their actions as valid. (and their membership numbers still aren't good considering how ridiculously they've stacked the ticket price to make a membership seem affordable)

I get the criticism that things like mini golf and holiday lights are more accessible, culturally, but if your activity costs $75 for a family of 4, you can't pretend you're concerned about access.

And there are multiple solutions for increasing pedestrian access to the grounds, it's just that Newfund$ doesn't actually WANT those type of people, so they'll pass the buck and say they wish the city would fix the streets and intersections and hem and haw when if they cared they could fix it in a week.

I've not renewed my membership since they closed off pedestrian access and I have no illusions about winning this game of chicken with them since they seem to have really fundamentally changed what they think they owe the city as a (former) cultural institution.

angela herrmann

I wish I could post a photograph, or 10, here. On Wednesday (4/3/19), I hopped on my bicycle, camera in tow, in search of early spring ephemerals. As I traveled along the canal towpath, passing under Michigan Road toward the 100-acre woods, I thought the woods might be a lovely place to stop. I rolled off the towpath toward Hidden Lake, only to make the most hideous of discoveries: many trees had been cut down near the now not-so-hidden lake--trees that appeared to have been native hardwoods. Trees that were home to countless native birds and insects. In a city where so many conversations have happened around protecting trees and urban forests, such as the Crown Hill Woods (which required many hours of many people's time to protect, not once, but twice!) located a mere spitting distance from Newfields, I was mortified by the discovery of the cut. More than ever, we need trees--mature trees that provide ecosystem services such as cleaning our air and filtering our water. Thousands of cars pass through the intersection of Michigan Road and 38th Street daily, obligating us to consider what we lose every time we remove yet another tree from our urban setting (think Haverstick Woods at 86th & Keystone). I'm sure the Newfields staff have some grand vision for how they will replace those trees and I'm sure it will look nice, but whatever they decide, the services once offered by those trees are lost to all of us who depend on them.
I write this because the tree carnage serves as yet one more example of decisions made by Newfields staff that are at odds with the broader community needs. I'm a cyclist. (Although I don't know anyone who rides as much as Bill ...) Bill Watts' characterization of the fortification of the IMA, er, I mean, Newfields, is spot on as I have witnessed what has essentially become a gated community that now excludes cyclists and walkers from the grounds. Not everyone visiting the grounds is seeking a curated experience. And yet, the new landscaping will surely amount to a curated experience. The destruction of those trees reflects just how out of step from the community Newfields' staff continues to be.
When will humans ever realize that our efforts to "improve" a natural space leaves us more often than not with unintended consequences?

Dan Grossman

Ang, thanks for your comment. You can certainly share those photos with me and I will follow up. You can email me at dgrossman@nuvo.net.

Cthrelk

Hey there! Just wanted to correct that Ray Irvin is the architect of the greenways system- not Irwin.
Thanks

William Watts

Thank you for your correction. I have asked that it be made in the text, but I don't have the ability to do that myself. Ray is an old friend of mine, and I am sorry to have slighted him in this way.

Dan Grossman

Hi there, I went ahead and made that correction. Thanks for letting us know!

Gary Reiter

I am a fan of Newfields. And, I believe Newfields is more notable for what it does than for what it does not say. This is the topsy turvy of the recent Bill Watts article.
The Newfields Brand is not a marketing stunt. A publicity stunt is a planned event designed to attract the public's attention to the event's organizers or their cause. For example, where Cycling transportation enthusiasts show up to a City Council meeting with bicycles to protest the lack of infrastructure for safe commuting routes. That action would be a publicity stunt.
Newfields is an identity for the entire campus. Newfields is comprised of The Indianapolis Museum of Art, The Garden, Lilly House, and The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres. Each of these elements has their own unique attraction. Using a brand to bring all of the elements together is a strategy to tie in all the assets to wonderful cultural experience is an intelligent and well thought out move. Branding is the process of forming memories, emotions and a relationship around the totality of the experience. Branding is not persuasion as persuasion is effectively an argument. The Branding process is enrollment. Enrollment is creating an experience that creates such a strong connection and strong belief that the visitor adopts the brand identity as their own.
So, how do you know it is working? The branding works when Newfields starts to have a community of die-hard cult followers. The people, like myself, who evangelize and share the brand with everyone they know.
How, why and where did I see the light? First, I showed up. I ran into the battle versus running away. I signed up for a membership. I developed a relationship with some of the staff. I visited all of the experiences. I attended some of the special events and curated shows. I ate in the restaurant. I drank the Kool-Aid (I mean beers) in the beer garden. I had client meetings on the campus instead of my stuffy office. My thought was if this was happening, then I am going to go all in. I am going to experience everything it has to offer. And, I had fun. And joy. I bought a membership for a local area non profit to share the joy. I signed my Grandkids up for a summer experience. I went to 100 acres with friends and explored. I went to the Christmas Lights experience. Newfields felt like a place I could go to and experience the Art, the Seasons, and Nature. So, this is my personal experience. It is unique to me. And, I love it all. I feel like there is still some exploring to do. Some painting that I have not focused on. Some history I do not know. I am curious about the history of women donors/patronage, the women artists represented in the museum, the women as subjects in the art at the museum. I heard a story about a woman on one of the early art acquisition committees who was mocked by Booth Tarkington and ended up purchasing and later donating artwork turned down by the committee. Those pieces turned out to be the most significant pieces in the collection. What other stories exist behind the museum and the grounds?
The 50 year history of Newfields includes several name changes. Each of the name changes is the result of significant events. Herron Museum needed more space and moved. The name was changed to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which then became the IMA. The IMA name remains under the umbrella of the Newfields brand. It only took one explanation to tie the name to the local resonance. Oldfields, Newfields, oh, I get it. The Lilly family called the children’s house on the property Newfields. I saw the connection, grinned and moved on.
Here's a list of some of the biggest brands you may not have known any other way.
• Quantum Computer Services » AOL. ...
• BackRub » Google. ...
• Sound of Music » Best Buy. ...
• Apple Computers » Apple, Inc. ...
• Research in Motion » Blackberry. ...
• Brad's Drink » Pepsi-Cola. ...
• Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo » Sony.

Placing a bet on the death of the Newfields Brand is a bad bet. I am not comparing Newfields to Google. I am saying that Newfields has the same chance of succeeding as IMA had to succeeding the Herron name.
I want to move from the brand discussion to a financials discussion. I have been a Trust Officer for 37 years. I have experience with Foundations, Endowments and Wealth Management. A 5% distribution is customary for Foundations and Endowments. However, a conservative approach would be 3.5% to 4% distribution rate in order to keep up with inflation over the long term and using what is called a Monte Carlo analysis. So, when the market drops and you are drawing more than 5% from your endowment, it is time for panic. Essentially, it is a downward spiral. Let’s say you have a $100 million endowment. The market drops 20% and your Endowment is now $80 million. You need a 25% return on the $80 million to get back to the $100 million and you are taking out 5% on top of that? Ya, that is a reason to panic.
Bill Watts suggests in his article that you simply raise the price of admission from zero cost admission to $10-$12 and keep the campus open and problem solved. He is missing the point being it is not just about the price of admission and Newfields has made an effort to keep the campus affordable.
First, let’s talk about the price of admission and affordability. Families that participate in any of the state assistance programs can visit NewFields for just $2 per family member on the account per visit. https://discovernewfields.org/visit/access-pass
In addition, admission is free the first Thursday of every month from 4-9 p.m.
Then, NewFields offers free admission all day on:
• – National Museum Day –
• – Summer Solstice –– Autumn Equinox –
• – National Garden Day –– Silent Night –
• –Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration

This is not a “let them eat cake” scenario. I know that some will still object because the access is not free to all and unfettered as in the past. However, the strategy and tactics have borne witness to the desired results. Attendance has increased and there are more funds available to maintain all of the attractions (and reduce reliance on the endowment). And, you may have to plan, but there are many dates available for free admission to all of the attractions.
Earned income is key. Personally, I want the museum to rely less on grants and assistance and rely more on earned income. Become more self-sustainable. Free up the grants so they can be paid to other worthy start up nonprofit and cultural causes. The museum has been around for 50 years. It is always the time to focus on earned income as a benefit to the community at large. Tax dollars support our public parks and that is why access is free (unless you rent a park facility) and unfettered (unless you want to visit a park after hours). Wait a minute, even our public parks have fees and fettered access? The raccoons are in a forest prison?
But, I digress. Because I want to talk about this nonsense of NewFields de-emphasizing its art collections and developing outdoor attractions. The point of the outdoor attractions is to increase attendance at the indoor attractions. The outdoor attractions have exposed a new audience to Newfields because you have to enter the outdoor attractions by walking through indoor attraction. You get the idea right? You give them what they want and maybe they see something new that they didn’t know they wanted and come back. Studies showed that potential patrons were interested in outdoor curated experiences and this presents an opportunity to develop the outdoor patrons into indoor patrons. Good grief, how dare they bait and switch. Maybe, this is something that other Cultural Arts institutions should be considering. I read about a Symphony in Europe that scored EDM and created a festival atmosphere for EDM concerts to expose a different crowd to Orchestrations with the idea that some of the EDM crown would come back for Bach, Beethoven and other classical genius. Isn’t the Newfields approach similar in design to a desired EDM concert outcome to bring an audience in to an experience desired and convert them to patrons of all the experiences offered?
In regard to special collection exhibitions, at this point, it should come as no surprise that I have an opinion. I went to the George Platt Lynes photography exhibition last November. I was able to connect with Robin Lawrence and Anne Young, the exhibition curators because I signed up for the offered tour. The exhibition explored Lynes creative and photographic process, the people who shaped his life and how his art has influenced modern photography. Money is the root of everything. I would love to see the kind of exhibitions that Bill Watts would characterize as “serious Art”. However, I am grateful for the opportunity to see the types of exhibits created by our talented curators operating within the constraints of money. If you missed the Lynes show because you are being resistant to and protesting the changes, then you really missed a great curated event.
I stated on Twitter that I disagree with just about everything in the Bill Watts article. What do I agree with? Apparently, not much. But, I am a bicycle commuter. I ride the Pacers Bike Share almost every day to and from work. My front door is on the Cultural Trail and I use the Cultural Trail daily. A lot of people would know my wife and me as Coco’s owner. Therefore, I am also passionate and enthusiastic about Bill’s argument that the infrastructure needs to be fixed to give access to Pedestrians and Bicyclists. There is still no sidewalk that leads from the old pedestrian to the entrances pedestrians are now forced to use. I join Bill and ask for IMA to create a solution.
Nonetheless, I will continue my “anti-protest” and support Newfields with a membership. I will attend the curated exhibitions. I will bring clients to the museums for business meetings in the restaurant. I will bring my grandchildren to see a Degas Statute on loan from an anonymous patron. I will hold my Wife’s hand on the grounds on a stroll. I will kiss her in the kissing booth at the Winterlights show. I will drink the Kool-Aid (I mean beer). I will learn about the women patrons, the women artists, the women subjects. I will engage the staff with my opinions. I will show up. And, I will not miss what you are missing Bill. I invite you back. Contact me when you come back and I will buy you a beer.
I like the Nuvo membership forum. First, the ability to conduct a dialogue and debate is great. No trolls or a person harassing you anonymously is a great benefit. And, it is fun. I hope that more people engage in the discussions. Oh, and forgive my grammar. I am not an English Professor and this article is a train of thought. I did not set it aside and review every word and paragraph for editing. Top of mind opinions for what it is worth.


William Watts

Thank you so much for your response. I really admire your enthusiasm and your positive attitude toward the institution we both cherish.

At the risk of personalizing this, it seems to me that we are playing different but honorable roles in this debate. You are a booster (your handle, "Indyfan," proclaims this), and I am trying to play the role of critic. I think that the a healthy city needs both parts of this exchange. So, whilie I disagree many of your points, I value your opinion.

I think you are right to call me out for saying that Newfields is a "marketing stunt." If I had this to write over again, I think I would call it a "marketing gimmic" instead. I understand the distinction you want to make between branding and marketing, but, for me, the two are intertwined. Comapanies often rebrand themselves as the basis for a marketing campaign. And these campaigns are often more about perception than substance. And I don't thinkk you are coming to grips with the analogy I have drawn to the Clarian rebranding. In my opinion, IU Hospitals were able to correct and recover from that unfortuante turn. And so can the Indianapolis Museum of Art.

I also think that you are accepting uncritically the propaganda put out by Venable and Hiatt. In particular, you seem to accept their position that this was a necessary course of action, and there was no other viable way forward. Let me point out one inconsistency, then, in your uncritical acceptance of that position. For them, Newfields must be accepted as a package, and that package includes the closeure (or to use my term, "fortification"), of the upper campus. I dont' think you can buy into the Newfields concept, and somehow escape that part of it.

You and I share a commitment to cycling. I ride 8-10,000 miles a year, and do virtually all of my travel around the city by bicycle. I think this violation of efforts to make the city more bicycle- and pedestrian friendly shows how bankrupt the Newfields concept is. I think it does nothing to better the museum, and nothing to better or city. Just the opposite.

As I mention in my other response, I went back to the IMA this past weekend to see the Samuel Levi Jones exhibit, and I rejoined for the year. I enjoyed it very much. I don't deny that the IMA continues to do some good things, and I don't plan to stay away permanent. But I reserve the right to continue to criticize the direction it is taking, and to wish for better leadership.

Dan Grossman

Thank you for your comment, Kate!

Kate Onuska


It’s complicated.
I think I was around 7 or 8 the first time I visited the IMA. I remember what I was wearing. A black skirt with white polka dots and a black shirt with a white kitten. It’s absurd, probably, to feel the way I feel about the museum when I look back over the past thirty years of visits and life events that took place there. I grew up there. I had many first dates there. I was even proposed to on a bridge off of a trail in the 100 Acres... But, as with any enduring relationship, not everything goes perfectly. I remember sitting in my car at the light at Michigan and 38th, white knuckled, as I saw the sign for Newfields erected in front of the IMA. And I knew the relationship would need to evolve. I couldn’t just not support a place that had brought me such a sense of wonder and comfort and fascination over the years. It’s occurred to me that the opinions regarding Newfields are much like our opinions or perceptions of works of art—we all have them, right? I can be deeply moved and connect to a piece of art in a way that doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else. It doesn’t need to, the feelings are my own. And someone else can reject it, for their own specific reasons or thoughts, and that’s okay too. It’s how art works. What I think is an enormously easy thing to do is to find what’s wrong with stuff. I don’t like this, this, that, etc. We do it all the time. We do it to people, we do it to ourselves, we do it to our own stuff. We throw around negativity because it’s easier. It’s easier than looking for the good when you’ve also experienced a loss. There’s also the endless debate of what art is and what it isn’t. Or as of lately, this is what a museum should be and this is what it shouldn’t be. I wholeheartedly feel that we’re all entitled to our own opinions of the museum just like the art within it.
Additionally, I do not see it as being elitist. I walked away from a horrible marriage with absolutely nothing, qualified for a museum access pass, and continued taking my young daughter there. It was a judgement-free, completely safe space to roam, explore, and share. We can look at any number of places and spaces that have been sacred to any of us over the years and throw out criticisms, critiques, and opinions. But I challenge everyone to see the ways it’s still wonderful and beautiful and enduring. 💛

William Watts

I really appreciate what you have to say here. It's complicated for me too. I do see a lot of good in the museum, and, in fact, I returned last weekend with my wife, and we renewed our membership, and viewed the Samuel Levi Jones exhibit, "Left of Center," which we enjoyed very much. I suppose, though, that I part ways with you on the value of criticism. For me, it is especially important to criticize the institutions we hold most dear. I would like to see more, not less, public debate and discussion about our institutions. I htink that good criticism can help us to undertand more fully what we think and why we think it, and it can also help to shape the way institutions develop. I sitll value the IMA, but I don't think this new direction is doing it any good, and I think we deserve better leadership.