Given the enormous forward momentum and focus of this institution, it’s difficult to decide whether the past year is best identified as historically significant or business as usual. In truth, it has been a bit of both, with the Board voting in May to realize the expansion designed by Herzog & de Meuron—certainly a singular moment in this institution’s history—and with Newsweek magazine trumpeting “… the Walker—possibly America’s best contemporary art museum—is always worth a visit,” which, while joyful to read, is what we daily aspire to be. For example, after dissecting in painful detail an activity that had successfully attracted a large number of teens—more than 100,000 come to the Walker on their own each year, making our teen program a national model—one department head remarked, with some exasperation, that he had never worked in an institution as self-critical as the Walker. With a mission that serves as both an unusually expansive standard and internal goad, we rarely are satisfied with our achievements.
I hope this publication offers something more than an annual report’s customary recitation of successes (but forgive a director for mentioning two that reflect the merit of many others: the exhibition Zero to Infinity: Arte Povera 1962–1972, which we co-organized with the Tate Modern, was judged by the International Association of Art Critics to be the “Best Thematic Museum Show Outside of New York”; and Iranian-born artist Shirin Neshat’s Logic of the Birds, her first theater production, which we co-commissioned with Art Angel in London and the Kitchen in New York, played to extremely positive press at Lincoln Center and later in Milan, Paris, and Vienna). What we want to share is how the Walker, like a great research university, gives shape to new ideas (even about the past) and champions cross-disciplinary practice while making competing values visible and providing a safe context for grappling with them. Our mission acts both as a guide and a stimulant for study, connecting the staff and Board with experts from many different fields. As we became increasingly sensitive to the challenges inherent in adopting a more global perspective, we realized the journey had no terminus, although it did circle back to our own rapidly changing community where, for example, some 80 languages are spoken in public schools throughout the Twin Cities.