Intro 3: Indianapolis Museum of Art

Photo of IMA exterior from

I’ll be visiting five arts organisations (four museums and one tour company) in September 2016 as part of my Churchill Fellowship. I’d like to give a bit more information about each one and why I think their learning programmes, staff and organisational culture are particularly interesting.

My third stop: Indianapolis Museum of Art (IMA)

Last April, I chanced upon an interview in the Guardian with Silvia Filippini-Fantoni, Director of Interpretation, Media and Evaluation at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. I was preparing for my application to WCMT and looking for examples of interesting practice – her comments were gold dust. I was particularly struck by the following statement: “The museum’s shift towards a more visitor-centred approach has been possible because of a number of different initiatives. First, the implementation of non-traditional programming [my emphasis]. We’ve been progressively moving away from more traditional approaches, such as talks and symposiums, in favour of more fun and playful experiences that support participations, social interaction and creativity.”

Silvia’s colleague, Scott Stulen, Curator of Audience Experience and Performance, has also spoken in similar terms about the changes at IMA: “Different audiences are wanting to consume art in a different way than our culture has been consuming in the past. And we can do it without compromising the core mission of the institution… What we really want to do is bring in younger audiences of people in their 20s, 30s, or 40s – before or when they have families. That’s the future of our museum. If we don’t start replenishing people, then we’re in trouble. And if we don’t change [our programming] people aren’t going to come.” You may already be familiar with Scott’s work from his previous role at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, especially his Internet Cat Video Festival, which has been a phenomenal success and is currently on a world tour.

Some exciting examples of the IMA approach include B-Movie Bingo (watch bad movies and collect clichés on a bingo card to win prizes), Cereal Cinema (family movie mornings) and the Office of Art Grievances/Resolutions (file a complaint against ‘Art’ which will be processed and addressed by a museum official). All of these programmes are built on and fed back into audience research and evaluation, creating a virtuous circle of communication between audiences and museum staff.

The IMA is the largest museum I will be visiting (the fifth largest in the US), with a collection of 54,000 artworks from Europe, Africa, Asia and Oceania as well as textiles, decorative art, prints and drawings. IMA extends well beyond the building itself and includes a 100 acre park, greenhouse, pavilions and two historic houses. The site also hosts a pre-school, St Mary’s Child Center at the IMA for the 3-5s, which makes daily use of the collections and grounds for those lucky children. As well as spending time with Silvia and Scott, I’m also looking forward to meeting Heidi Davis-Soylu, Director of Academic Engagement and Learning Research, and Jennifer Todd, Manager of the Docent Programme. I hope to gain a rounded understanding of how the team is looking to create a new approach to learning and visitor engagement and embracing (and I imagine sometimes wrestling) with organisational change.


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