Former Project Director of mnartists.org at Walker Art Center Scott Stulen gives us the scoop on his move to Indianapolis, work at the IMA, collaboration with Liquid Music, and the excitement building for Daniel Wohl's Holographic.
Sitting in the cafe of the newly opened Eskenazi Hospital, Michael Kaufmann, described Indianapolis as “a place where a few people can make interesting things happen quickly.” We had just finished a tour of the hospital including the 5000 square foot sky farm perched atop the downtown location. The halls were filled with numerous works by local and national artists and Michael explained plans for a music program in the facility. I was in Indianapolis for an initial interview for a new position at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. I had been at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis for five years as Project Manager of mnartists.org and wasn’t sure how serious I was about leaving Minnesota or moving to Indiana. Over the course of our honest and inspiring conversation, he sold me on Indy.
Nearly two year later, Michael was right. Indianapolis is a place where ideas can grow and find supportive audiences. And a few people can make a difference. In March of 2014 I became the first Curator of Audience Experiences and Performance, a new position not only for the IMA, but one of the first of its type in the country. I playfully describe my roll as a curator of people, not objects. Specifically, my role is to curate all of the public programs, performing arts and many of the interactive spaces on the expansive 152 acre campus which includes an encyclopedic museum, 3 theaters, a greenhouse historic mansion, formal gardens and 100 acre art and nature park. The position was created with an acknowledgement that audiences are changing, particularly younger audiences, and the museum needs to radically adjust if it is to remain relevant. Not a small challenge, but an amazing opportunity that I was eager to tackle.
The approach of my department is to focus on creating social, interactive and highly accessible experiences in the context of the museum. It is an interdisciplinary and experimental approach, where failure must be embraced (and supported by the board and leadership). In addition this new wave of programming was generously kickstarted by the Efroymson Family Fund shortly after my hire. Their gift of a million dollars over four years launched ARTx, the R&D department of the IMA which my team heads. We are now a year and a half into the ARTx programming and it has already shown a dramatic shift in bringing in new audiences, establishing sustainable platforms and generating buzz. In the past year we have presented over 140 programs including an Adult Summer Camp where campers foraged the grounds to make breakfast with one of the city’s leading chefs, built cardboard forts, hiked and made cyanotypes and closed out the day with a mini opera on the pair overlooking our lake. Or, in a nod to my Minnesota roots, we screened the film Fargo last January, outside. The event sold out with over 300 people huddled up in the 20 degree weather to watch the film, compete in a Minnesota accent contest and answer Minnesota trivia. However the best part, is that the whole front row made dishes to share with the audience as in impromptu potluck dinner. The best programs provide a platform for the audience to go in directions you never expected.
Music is my passion and plays an important role in nearly all of our programming. It sets a vibe, creates easy points of access and ties together sometimes unrelated content. Silent Night is an event we host the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when you are sick of your family and shopping, which offered quiet, solitary experiences for our guests. One offering was a personal DJ, who would play you a track, over headphones, choose specifically for you, which creates a strangely intimate experience between DJ and listener. We have commissioned several new sound works by regional and national composers for events in our art and nature park including compositions with crickets by LA based musician Chris Kallmyer, field recordings by Seattle composer Nat Evans, live hydrophone compositions in the Art and Nature park lake by Michael Drews and Jordan Munson called Water Mining and a one-time-only public sculpture, performance and sound installation—E is for Equinox—from Grammy-nominated musician and Indianapolis-based artist Stuart Hyatt. The ephemeral, powerful performance consisted of a circle of 75 electric guitar players simultaneously strumming the E major power cord over a two minute period. The cord gradually became louder, transforming the surrounding woods into a supercharged sonic volcano, before reaching maximum volume and intensity
Now back to Michel Kaufmann. After our initial conversations which sold me on Indy, we have collaborated on several projects, mostly notably Sound Expeditions and Avant Brunch. The goal of Sound Expeditions is to create a soundtracked city in which spaces and places both familiar and unfamiliar take on a new layer of meaning and experience. It is both a collection and an archive housed at the Indianapolis Museum of Art documenting site-based sound art and composition. Sound Expeditions commissions pair sites and composers for the creation of new site-specific compositions in Indianapolis. To date sound expeditions has released pieces by Hanna Benn, Oliver Blank, Olga Bell, Roberto C. Lange and Caroline Shaw. Daniel Wohl is committed to create a new work for Sound Expeditions during his visit to Indianapolis in February.
Avant Brunch is a one-time, specially curated experience which blends art, music and culinary delights in a unique location. The formula is to have a four course meal prepared by a leading Indianapolis Chef and not available in their restaurant paired with listening to a yet-to-be-released record, usually from the test pressing. The event is then hosted in a unique venue on the campus of the museum from the stage of the theater to a gallery, depending on the vibe of the record. Lastly the audience is instructed to remain silent through first listen of the record and savor the food.
Finally this brings us to the collaboration with Liquid Music. As I sat down to write this piece I laughed at the reality that I needed to move six hundred miles away to create this collaboration. I have long admired Kate Nordstrum and the amazing work she has supported, curated and created. Even with my close ties to the Walker, we never had the opportunity to directly collaborate. This is where Michael Kaufmann creates (yet again) another connection. Michael, Kate and I were having some initial conversations about nurturing synergy between performing arts venues and curators in the Midwest to support the creation and presentation of new work. From these early conversations the possibility of the IMA joining with Liquid Music, Mass MOCA and the Baryshnikov Arts Center in commission a piece by Daniel Wohl emerged. The IMA is honored to be included in the project, not only to help realize a new work by one by a rising star, but to bring this work to Indianapolis. Presenting new, experimental, multi-displinary work, such as Daniel Wohl is exactly what we are trying to do with ARTx and the our programming at the IMA. There is a buzz in Indianapolis anticipating this performance. We can wait and hope this is just the beginning of many collaboration in the future.