Mission: More than a Museum

Through Your Eyes, the annual report for fiscal year 1998–1999, is composed of many voices, suggesting the marvelous variety of experiences gained through exposure to the arts as well as the depth and intimacy of that engagement. In presenting new work from across the globe as well as providing new contexts for understanding the history of modern art across the disciplines, I like to think Walker programs prompt many conversations and raise many questions. While the search for certainty remains with us as we end a century in which many geographic, psychological, scientific, philosophical, and even spiritual absolutes were tested, the open-ended miracle of the arts is that they allow each of us the freedom to form our own answers and find our own meaning. Artists understand that their work is but one part of this inquiry. Marcel Duchamp, who along with Pablo Picasso perhaps exerted the greatest influence on this century’s artistic practice, reminds us that “the creative act is not performed by the artist alone: the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world, deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications, and thus adds his contribution to the creative act.”

This exchange is central to all we do, and questions, which are central to both the artists’ and audiences’ own method of deciphering meaning, are a critical, even liberating part of the process. Consequently, I remain haunted by the comments of one of the participants in the Walker’s Teen Arts Council who said, “You keep asking us to ask questions, but nobody has taught us how to do that before.” We are trained from an early age to seek the right answers, but as we exit this century—years in which we have moved from the speed of the locomotive to that of the Internet—the rate of change accelerates, posing new questions about our role as individuals, communities, and cultures. While we will doubtless spend increasing time communicating, learning, and creating online, I believe the desire for a sense of community as well as a safe place to discuss and debate those values that separate as well as bind will become stronger.

The many impressive achievements of the past year underscore our desire to become even more of a resource in our own community, and magnify the ways in which visitors to the Walker become more active participants in a series of memorable experiences based on discovering the links between art and life as well as among multiple artistic disciplines.

It is heartening to note that our efforts to create a greater sense of community have been noticed. This spring, the Greater Minneapolis Chamber of Commerce selected the Walker Art Center a winner of its Quality of Life Award in Community Involvement for its support of the Lake Street Cultural Festival. This partnership with the Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association is one of more than 80 annual partnerships the Walker makes with community organizations; it provides a wonderful example of the success, visibility, and meaning that grow out of our connection with neighbors across the Twin Cities.

In 1994, the Walker received $1.25 million, the largest programmatic grant in the institution’s history, from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund. The grant supported “New Audiences/New Definitions,” a five-year series of projects that expanded the accessibility of the permanent collection for new as well as traditional audiences. For the purposes of the grant, the Walker included performing and media arts commissions as part of the collection, which included residencies in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden by such artists as Chuck Davis and Merce Cunningham. The grant also made video documentation of performing arts events possible, and included a substantial evaluation component that placed our efforts in the context of those going on in other museums across the country. In February 1999, Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest published a survey of national museums that featured a case study of four museums, including the Walker: “To successfully launch an audience-building initiative, museums need the support and participation of the entire institution—from the director and board of trustees to curatorial, education, and marketing staffs, as well as the security force and ticket sellers. The most accomplished initiatives not only involve the entire institution, but fundamentally change the way it operates. The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis is an exemplary model of this approach.” Through “New Audiences/New Definitions,” we were able to focus on:

    Making the Education Department a full partner in program planning

    Strengthening our programs for previously underserved audiences, including people of color, low-income families, and teens

    Analyzing how new technologies can assist in engaging audiences

    Developing an acquisitions strategy for a growing collection that is both international and multidisciplinary in scope

Some of the rewards of this work can be seen in the ways in which our attendance and membership numbers have grown as well as the reports of increased satisfaction across all visitor categories. Attendance has risen 9.4% since 1995 to 841,227 in 1999 (32% were nonresident visitors), placing the Walker in the top 10 of all museums nationally. Basic-level memberships have risen from 6,963 in May 1995 to 7,325 by the close of this fiscal year—an increase of 5.2% in four years. In addition, we have made extraordinary progress in attracting our target audiences of low-income families, people of color, and teens, which suggests the broad appeal of this institution:

    36% of our visitors in 1995 had household incomes below $25,000, which compares with 23% of museum visitors across the nation.

    In 1999 there were more than 1,262 events tickets distributed through Explore memberships—a unique, free program available to social-service agencies and their clients.

    15% of our visitors are people of color, up from 6% in 1995 (eight years ago, these numbers were so small that they were not statistically significant).

    Attendance by teenagers has grown 29% since 1995 to a total of 92,729 this year. This means increasing numbers of teens are choosing to come to the Walker. The Teen Arts Council, which meets weekly and includes
    12 teen advocates from across the Twin Cities, has done a spectacular job in helping us serve the needs of this constituency. This year there were more than 2,000 submissions for the teen-organized exhibition Hot Art Injection—up from 800 two years ago.

As we approach the next century, the creation, presentation, and interpretation of art is changing. Exhibitions—even those devoted to the static image or object—are becoming more multidisciplinary, augmenting the viewer’s experience by creating additional fields of information highlighting or making more transparent the “hows” and “whys” of the art displayed and the artistic process. The word that perhaps best describes these transformations is “interactive,” suggesting multiple shifts in ways that art is made and experienced, as well as greater sensitivity to the multiple learning styles of our audiences. We know from our research that visitors seek more active involvement with living artists, and hope that happens in a universe of content and information more easily tailored to each individual’s knowledge and desire. Our business increasingly will be about providing both individual and collective experiences of an emotional, physical, intellectual, and even spiritual sort through deeper, more interactive engagement with art in its myriad forms, with artists and scholars from many disciplines and continents, and with each other. The new Bush Global Initiative, supported by a $1 million grant from The Bush Foundation, will help us create a new model of global collaboration that will give us the curatorial skills and professional networks we need to commission and present interdisciplinary, international artistic programs of the highest caliber. Our multidisciplinary programming will continue to mirror the idea that there are multiple approaches to learning, including the visual, auditory, and kinetic, all of which are embedded in our educational programs.

One way we’ve sought to expand educational and artistic programs is through launching a department that places the development of new technologies in the hands of both our audiences and the artists we support. Recent developments in digital media mirror the complex and synthetic processes of the human mind, presenting new ways of thinking, teaching, learning, and creating. Like any great university, the Walker is involved in research and development; while only two years old, this department already has established benchmarks for the field. This year, The New York Times hailed the Walker’s New Media Initiatives Department’s efforts as a “broad and visionary program that establishes the museum as the leader in high-tech cultural initiatives.” In March, the Walker Web site (www.walkerart.org) was voted Best Overall Site at the international Museums and the Web Conference. Although it was launched less than a year ago, ArtsConnectEd, a new arts-education collaborative Web site developed with The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (www.artsconnected.org), was named Best Educational Use Site—the Louvre got an honorable mention—and received a Gold MUSE Award at the American Association of Museums Conference in April. In addition to curriculum that can be accessed by grade level, subject matter, or relationship to the State of Minnesota’s graduation standards, ArtsConnectEd includes an educational module called Through Your Eyes, which uses the actual experiences of Walker audience members to create virtual tours that animate the range of our multidisciplinary programs. From October 1998–June 1999, more than 474,700 users have spent 57,000 hours visiting the Walker Web sites, viewing 3,482,114 pages.

In addition to extensive information on and educational projects relating to the Walker’s collection and multidisciplinary programs, the Walker’s Web site is one of the few museum sites in the world to include a digital art collection. Our virtual Gallery 9 features works created specifically for the Web, including Janet Cohen, Keith Frank, and Jon Ippolito’s The Unreliable Archivist, Lisa Jevbratt’s A Stillman Project, and Piotr Szyhalski’s Ding an sich: The Canon Series. The Walker recently acquired the complete works and archive of the pioneering äda'web, a leading site for the creation and distribution of Web-specific artworks by artists such as Doug Aitken, Jenny Holzer, General Idea, Vivian Selbo, Laura Trippi, and many others. Each of these projects strives to make the virtual gallery space an engaging, interactive place, different from the traditional museum experience.

Just as the Net can connect us to many places, Walker-organized exhibitions include artists from across the globe and down the street, and often are hosted by other museums around the world. The exhibition Unfinished History included photographs from Minneapolis-based artist Wing Young Huie’s Lake Street Project, 1996–1999 along with works incorporating architecture, film, sculpture, sound, video, and installation by 22 international artists. Unfinished History continued to expand the interdisciplinary nature of our gallery exhibitions as well as help our audiences better understand the complexity and interdependence of our own increasingly global community. In Regards, Barry McGee, San Francisco–based artist McGee combined graffiti-based drawings and found objects to create a large-scale mural installation in Gallery 7 that managed to capture the visceral and sensory aspects one might experience walking down any contemporary urban street. McGee also led a studio workshop on painting, street art, and media literacy for 18 local teens that culminated in a public exhibition of their artwork at No Name Exhibitions @ The Soap Factory.

Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, 1958–1968 presented the paintings, drawings, collages, sculptures, and installation works created by Kusama in New York during her most influential years, illustrating her significant contribution to the newly internationalized art scene. La Futurista: Benedetta Cappa Marinetti, 1917–1944 was the first solo exhibition in the United States by Benedetta, one of the few women in the Futurist movement, which rallied against romanticism and sentimentalism during the early part of the 20th century. Robert Gober: Sculpture + Drawing presented the first comprehensive examination of more than 100 of the artist’s drawings within the larger context of his sculptural practice, illustrating the way that Gober links many of the issues underlying Surrealism, Minimalism, and Conceptualism to psychological questions concerning the body and our domestic environment. The stellar tour for this Walker-organized exhibition includes the Rooseum Center for Contemporary Art in Malmö, Sweden, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Scenarios: Recent Work by Lorna Simpson featured the Brooklyn-based artist’s current work in film and photography, which explores complex social issues such as racial and sexual identity, notions of the body, and relationships. This exhibition included a Walker-commissioned film, Recollection (1998), made during Simpson’s artist residency at the Walker and filmed on location in the Twin Cities with local artists and actors. The final exhibition of the year, Edward Ruscha: Editions 1959–1999, presented a major retrospective of the artist’s prints, books, and graphic works, representing a body of editioned work that is uniquely American in both subject and sensibility. It was accompanied by the first catalogue raisonné of Ruscha’s graphic work, a scholarly publication orchestrated over a three-year period by Walker curator Siri Engberg. The exhibition tour includes the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the University of South Florida Contemporary Art Museum in Tampa.

Thanks to a National Endowment for the Humanities grant to restore, preserve, and digitally remaster 300 items from our unique archives of taped interviews and lectures held at the Walker, we were able to feature Robert Murdock’s 1966 interview with Yayoi Kusama both in the exhibition and on the Web. The site now lists library staff as research contacts, which has dramatically increased reference requests. Our library had 375 actual and 100 virtual visitors this year. Questions come quickly and efficiently from places around the world, including Brussels, Buenos Aires, London, Melbourne, Milan, Rome, and every corner of the United States. The slide librarian was actively involved in the production of the Ruscha catalogue raisonné—photographing every page of his artist’s books (more than 15,000 images).

With the largest museum-based performing arts program in the country, the Walker continued to advance its national and global reputation as a leader in contemporary presentations, residencies, and commissions, while further strengthening its ties to the local community. The Performing Arts Department was recognized for its excellence with an unprecedented $1.5 million endowment and programmatic grant from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation to “. . . ensure the continuation of this rich [contemporary jazz and dance] tradition and allow the Walker to make new strides in its support of the performing arts.” The grant will secure the future of the program for decades to come and help initiate projects such as Common Time: New Jazz and Dance Collaborations. This successful series supported Walker-commissioned works by some of the leading figures in jazz and dance and included extended residencies, community outreach activities, and performances. Adventures in New Puppetry, a second new series, revisited the magic of puppetry, a central and sometimes sacred art form in many world cultures, respected for its often spellbinding storytelling capabilities. Starting with Ping Chong’s Kwaidan, and including Twin Cities–based artist Michael Sommers’ A Prelude to Faust, the series included five works by the next generation of puppet-theater artists who are producing some of the most inventive performance work of our time. Other highlights of the year included Merce Cunningham’s thrilling Event for the Garden, performed before thousands in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden; collaborations between choreographer Meg Stuart and artist Ann Hamilton and between Brazilian musician Tom Zé and Chicago-based Tortoise; OUT THERE 11, copresented with the Southern Theater, featuring work by33 Fainting Spells, Shawn McConneloug and Her Orchestra, Britain’s Improbable Theatre, and Anne Bogart/SITI; and the 1998–1999 Discover Series, copresented with Northrop Auditorium, which included the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company’s performance of We Set Out Early . . . Visibility Was Poor and Philip Glass and Robert Wilson’s Monsters of Grace. The Walker also received the largest grant award in Minnesota from the National Endowment for the Arts to support a series of community residencies and related performances.

The Walker’s Film/Video Department is internationally recognized for organizing and touring film programs and presenting classic films, retrospectives, and new works by both established and emerging international and regional video- and filmmakers. 2000 Seen By: An International Collection was a series that featured work by 10 remarkable filmmakers from 10 different countries who each created a prophetic tale of what will happen on the eve of the next millennium. This year’s Regis Dialogues featured appearances by Terry Gilliam paired with film critic Stuart Klawans, Stan Brakhage with Walker Film/Video Curator Bruce Jenkins, and Werner Herzog with film critic Roger Ebert. Japanese New Wave Cinema of the 1960s, a parallel program with the Kusama exhibition, was an ambitious series of 19 films that provided a frontal attack on conventional cinema practices and on the myths and traditions of Japanese society. The monthlong 1999 Women in the Director’s Chair festival highlights included premieres of Joan Chen’s Xiu Xiu, The Sent Down Girl and Samira Makhmalbaf’s The Apple; a two-day symposium called Fakes/Remakes: Stretching the Truth; 12 films made by Minnesota women; and a Free First Saturday screening of more than 40 films by Minnesota girls aged 7 to 18. The Film/Video Department also copresented festivals with community partners, including the 1999 Juneteenth Film Festival of African-American media, the Midwest Film and Video Showcase, and the Two Rivers Film Festival, a series of films made by Native Americans. This work was bolstered by a generous $250,000 gift from Nancy and Larry Bentson to create The Bentson Family Fund for the Acquisition, Conservation, and Presentation of Film, which will support a significant expansion of the museum’s Ruben Film Study Collection and public programs. The Film/Video Department also was cited as a model case study for developing new audiences with community collaborators in the 1998–1999 Field Guide, a report from the National Alliance of Media Arts and Culture.

This year, the Walker’s Education and Community Programs Department served more than 115,000 people from preschoolers to senior citizens, and received national recognition for its effectiveness in reaching traditionally underserved audiences. Our popular monthly Free First Saturday program was recently cited in Kotler and Kotler’s Museum Strategy and Marketing (the first comprehensive guide to strategic planning and marketing for museums) as a prime example of innovative programming. The Walker’s Teen Programs division is now considered a model for other museums across the country. Highlights for the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC) this year included the second biennial teen-curated exhibition Hot Art Injection (may cause side effects), which was conceived, curated, organized, and publicized by WACTAC. At the opening of this exhibition, teens spoke eloquently of the Walker’s impact on their work and on their lives. At school, they said, teachers and administrators tended to view them “as a problem waiting to happen.” At the Walker they found mentorship, support, and a sense of community. In all, 124 artists were represented at the exhibition, and more than 800 people attended the opening. The exhibition received enthusiastic coverage from the local press, and visitors to the show commented both on the energy and maturity displayed by the artists, as well as the astounding diversity of media and techniques they employed. This spring, the Walker introduced WAC Packs—kid-size backpacks filled with hands-on art activities and games—designed to enable children above the age of four and their parents to learn more about contemporary art while having fun together. One parent wrote: “It kept my son interested in the art objects, in how art is made, and in how ’everyday’ materials become art. It probably was his best art museum experience to date.”

Finally, a grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts launched an initiative to help fulfill our objective to more deeply engage audiences in the neighborhoods surrounding the Walker through multidisciplinary programs and artist residencies: Artists and Communities at the Crossroads. After serving as a site for workshops for children and a computer clubhouse for teens in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, our new mobile art lab—Walker on Wheels (WoW), an artist’s project by Atelier van Lieshout from the Netherlands—has begun to move into the neighborhoods, where it will present programs in collaboration with our community partners. It was unveiled in front of nearly 10,000 people at the 10th-anniversary celebration of the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden in September. From the inception of this project, it was clear that we had found in the mobile art lab an effective metaphor for our institutional mission and long-range goals. Walker on Wheels literally takes us beyond our institutional walls, emphasizing the role the arts play in our lives.

One moment when I felt especially proud to be the director of this remarkable institution occurred when a father, accompanied by his son, stepped out of the crowd attending the Garden celebration to tell me how much the museum and Garden meant to them. I was deeply moved by this exchange, as it reminded me that while we need the freedom to dream for the future, we must also remember to open our eyes and see how deeply the work we do at the Walker roots us in our community and links us to the people surrounding us, hopefully for many generations to come. Through the commitment, creativity, and extraordinary generosity of the Walker’s Board of Directors, staff, contributors, members, volunteers, and visitors, this moment—along with many other highlights of the past year—was made possible. I thank you all for helping the Walker Art Center become a national model for audience engagement and for enabling us to enter a new century equipped to make these connections with our ever-expanding community.

Kathy Halbreich, Director