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Dial-ing In: Target Audience

The Indianapolis Museum of Art is filled with amazing pieces of work. I know that because I’ve been here, a lot. In fact, a lot of people who have never been to the IMA know it’s filled with amazing works. Our challenge isn’t convincing the public there is art here; it’s convincing people there is art relevant to them here.

Meg Liffick is the Assistant Director of Public Affairs here at the IMA. Meg and her team tightrope a difficult role between the curator and the museum-goer. The curator, as I understand it, is the head-of-household in the gallery and the coming/going/hopefully staying artwork is his or her children. It’s the curator’s job to know the artwork inside and out. It’s Meg’s and her teammates’ job to translate that expertise to a viewer who doesn’t know anything about the artwork or any artwork for that matter.

So how do they do it? How can someone be motivated to come to an art museum? Well, they have a few tricks up their sleeve.  Hard Truths: The Art of Thornton Dial is our most recent exhibition/huge marketing undertaking. Dial is an extremely bold artist. You won’t find political, social or historical commentary listed as any of the many materials Dial employs in his art, but they’re there. Because Dial’s work embodies such strong emotions, it’s the very kind of art some people are afraid of. It can make you uncomfortable—not because it’s vulgar or offensive–but because you might not know how to feel at first. We’re used to the art of the snap judgment, not the art of the deeply expressive Alabama welder.

Thornton Dial. Photograph by David Raccuglia.

All of our marketing materials (brochures, posters, radio spots, etc.) are designed here. “We do everything in-house. Everything.  That’s what’s special about the IMA—we all collaborate, no one does anything alone.” says Meg.

The marketing around the city for Hard Truths pushes the story or experience of the exhibition and Dial, himself. Meg explains, “Once they’re on-site we allow people to form their own perspective, but we need to give people a reason to come initially.  We wanted to communicate that these works were largely 3-D.”

"Stars of Everything," 2004, 98 × 101. 1/2 × 20. 1/2 in., Collection of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation.

The people involved with the IMA’s marketing have to create a way to honor and advertise the art, however, most –  if not all of them – don’t have formal art history training. Meg explains, “We don’t have art backgrounds, but we can communicate passion.” This exhibit is a completely different experience; one that not everyone would jump at initially. But it’s still relevant. It’s important to have some surprises in life, to (as our radio spots encourage) “Be amazed.” “Be inspired.”  I think Meg says it best, “Museums are here to fulfill the need that you have of finding spirituality, creativity and inspiration.”

Filed under: Art, Exhibitions, IMA Staff, Marketing, Thornton Dial

3 Responses to “Dial-ing In: Target Audience”

  • avatar
    Annie Says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful post! I had never considered how a museum would have trouble talking about more difficult works in a show. Do they only try to market the special exhibitions?

  • avatar
    Meg Says:

    Hi Annie – Thanks for your interest in the post. Actually, special exhibitions are only a small part of our marketing. During any given week you may see advertising and communications for The Toby, 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, the permanent collection, Nourish Cafe, Oldfields-Lilly House & Gardens, Miller House and Garden, the general IMA brand, and much, much more. It’s a challenging job to balance all of the messages. We are constantly trying to determine the best way to communicate all that we do to the most amount of people.

  • avatar

    Where can I find other languages for VLC? When I searched their homepage, then I found nothing and most of the links doesnt work

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