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Fall Forward

A recent tweet to the IMA asked the following : @imamuseum are the flower gardens still alive?

Now my first reaction I admit was –Well, what the hell do you think? Was there a nuclear holocaust I missed? But then the reasonable part of my brain kicked in and I figured they were probably really wondering about the annuals and tropicals. Most of these are indeed gone, either damaged by last week’s frost or removed so winter materials could go in.

You will still find a few that were not badly damaged or we simply have not got round to. Don’t let a little frost stop you from coming out to see some “flower gardens”.
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Filed under: Art and Nature Park, Greenhouse, Horticulture


From the Library Shelves

The Stout Reference Library at the IMA has a large collection of materials printed by art museums in the United States and around the world.  I’ve been sorting through them and simultaneously shifting the museum publications collection for several months now.  The collection contains publications like exhibition catalogs, member magazines, annual reports and bulletins.  While it’s well organized, I’m removing materials that would better serve our patrons if  they were added to the online catalog we share with the Indianapolis Marion County Public Library, making them searchable and accessible.   While this collection encompasses items from nearly 400 museums outside of the United States, the total number of U.S. museums has not yet been determined.   Below is a photograph showing the publications I’ve selected that are waiting to be catalogued.

I am currently in the “D’s” for District of Columbia and I continually find little gems along the way. Some catalogs have the signature of past curators, directors of the IMA, or others who have donated materials over the years.  Like this one from Wilbur Peat, found inside the exhibition catalogue American Processional held at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and published in 1950.  Peat served as Director of the IMA from 1929-1965, and set the foundation for documenting Indiana artists.

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Filed under: Publications


The Challenges and Opportunities of Participatory Culture for Museums and Libraries (part II)

In part I of this series, we collected a number of great responses about the challenges and opportunities for museums to consider in light of the rise of participatory culture. This post, follows up on several of those ideas and connects to the ongoing discussions occurring at the Salzburg Global Seminar this week.


The view from our meeting room. An amazing setting to think about the future of libraries and museums.

Having completed the first full day of the Salzburg Global Seminar – discussing the role of museums and libraries in an era of participatory culture – I’m now fully convinced about why such gatherings are so important to the future relevance and impact of our libraries and museums.  Comprising individuals from 24 countries and a variety of professional backgrounds, the group has spent its first days considering the evolving impact that participatory culture is having on our practice, and at times returning to the very first principles of what it means to be a library or museum.

For those of you who are interested in the excellent and continuing discussion happening in Salzburg, you should go to check out the excellent work by Michael Stephens on his blog “Tame the Web”. Michael has some great coverage of the proceedings and brings a valuable perspective from libraries to the conversation.

For my part, I wanted to take the opportunity to highlight three questions that, as a museum professional,  stood out to me as being important for us to fully flesh out as we consider what museums might become in the next decade.

1. How can museums aid in addressing the socio-economic consequences of a widening technology gap?

A number of participants spoke eloquently about the social and economic consequences that impact marginalized communities who lack the same easy-access to technology that many of us take for granted.  This lack of access means a lack of opportunity to engage with the cultural evolutions of content produced online and critical dialogs taking place on blogs, twitter and cultural websites. The prevalence of information access is contributing to a changing set of skills and digital media literacy that cannot be replaced by other means.  The ability to sift, process, remix, and reformulate thoughts and critical argument is – quite specifically – a new form of literacy that will increasingly determine the opportunities and inclusion afforded to the privileged.

This fact has been well documented in the literature, and for those of you eager to learn more, I would recommend reading Henry Jenkins’ work – particularly his white-paper on “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century” (PDF).

New to me, was the realization that addressing the technology gap only delays the problem until the next disruptive technology arrives.  While we don’t yet know what that technology is, it’s a safe bet that the privileged among us will have access to it before many in our local communities do.

Since museums, and art museums in particular, posses such rich collections of artifacts, media, and artistic communication, are there ways that we can use those assets to address the underlying issues of media literacy? This opportunity further reinforces the value of museums’ existing efforts to build critical thinking skills into a wide range of programming efforts. Addressing the root skills at the heart of digital media literacy can work alongside efforts to provide comprehensive digital access to begin to positively impact and bridge that gap.

2. Do museums really want to take participatory culture seriously?

After thinking about and discussing the topic for quite some time now, it’s clear to me that the opportunities afforded to us by the changing expectations of participatory culture are resulting in a series of choices that museums will need to make regarding whether or not we will embrace participatory culture as an integral part of our museums.

To be intellectually genuine, it seems that there is scarcely any middle ground.  Either the museum will determine that there is inherent value to the opinions, expertise, and efforts of their invested communities or it will not. For museums that choose to embrace a conversational engagement with their audiences about the nature, origins, and personal interpretations of their collections, what remains to be seen is how the evolution of the authoritative voice of museum experts resolves its place in the discussion.

I, for one, believe that it’s entirely consistent to wholeheartedly pursue the creation of scholarly knowledge about our collections, and at the same time welcome the diversity of interpretation brought to the museum by the general public. As a number of the contributors to part I of this article pointed out though, truly owning up to this decision will have far reaching consequences for the sustainability of these efforts in the long term.  I’m not sure that most museums really recognize how profoundly this might impact their daily operations. Time will tell.

3. Is it possible for art museums to catalyze community conversation and action to addresses issues that matter to our local and global communities?

Lastly, I’m intrigued by the possibility that art museums can begin to leverage their deep collections and the changes in participatory media to promote meaningful conversations with communities about how to deal with a variety of social challenges.

The polarizing effects of politics have destroyed any opportunity for genuine civic discourse, and the educational system is so over burdened with curricular metrics that there is a dearth of opportunity for reasonable and well considered citizens to discuss the important issues of our time with empathy and respect. Artists have certainly been a bellwether for social discourse throughout our past. Is it possible that museums might emerge as a useful venue for this kind of discussion, and at the same time reinforce the relevance of the art in our collections to the daily lives of our constituents?

This is an area that I plan on reading and studying more about myself when I return to Indianapolis. In particular, I’ll be picking up Lois Silverman’s book entitled “The Social Work of Museums”. I’m certain that I could learn a lot from many of you as well, and look forward to thinking together about whether this is a valuable role for museums to play.


Filed under: Musings, Technology


Taking a Closer Look at the Viewing Project: “Above and Below”

Peering out from the gallery windows on the Contemporary floor, the intersection of suspended wires that is Maya Lin’s Above and Below inspires as much confusion as it does awe. This concept is what urged the work of the Viewing Project team, who created an interpretive space in the Davis Lab on the 2nd floor that highlights this site-specific sculpture located a floor above.

Maya Lin, "Above and Below," 2007.

The Viewing Project, which is in its final year, is a three year series of small-scale educational installations providing innovative ways to reactivate the IMA’s permanent collection.  The Viewing Project’s main goals are to encourage new ways of looking at artworks by mixing up the collection in unexpected ways and supporting an enjoyable visitor experience. This includes but is not limited to: hands-on models, comparative artworks across time and culture, videos, flip-labels, technology, and thoughtful questioning.

Typically the Viewing Project installations are located directly next to the artwork they are referring to. With Above and Below, the Viewing Project team bravely took on the challenge of placing the installation in a separate location from the actual work. This method of separating the informational from the experiential aspect of an artwork allows not only new educational connections to be made but also helps visitors make the journey to the sculpture, which is something that hosts its own set of navigational challenges.

The museum has previously experimented with way-finding methods such as arrows on the floor, the walls and posted signage. For this particular project, the team brainstormed about using GPS mapping methods with verbal descriptions, but in the end, they decided the most user-friendly guide would be a handout using photographs of distinct views leading upstairs. This process, along with an overview of the project, is explained by Annette in the video below:

Maya Lin was chosen for this project because her sculpture was not found readily in the museum and certainly deserves more attention.  She combines her unique background in both art and architecture to create forms that quote both industry and nature in a complex way. The sculpture is loosely based on the Indiana Blue Springs Cavern system, which Max Anderson talks about here.  Above and Below was a commission-based project by the IMA in 2007 and is currently on view on the 3rd floor balcony.

Filed under: Art, Contemporary, Education


Finding Girard in Columbus

Today's guest blogger is Cindy Frey, Associate Director at the Columbus Visitors Center.

Alexander Girard, Interior plan (detail), Miller House and Garden papers, IMA Archives.

The opening of Miller House and Garden has been wildly successful, with sold out tours for five solid months.  The home where Cummins CEO J. Irwin and Xenia Miller raised their children illustrates the masterful skills of the renowned mid-century architect Eero Saarinen.  The garden, designed by Dan Kiley, offers a lush contrast to the stark structure.  But, the explosive colors, textures and folk art inspired by interior designer Alexander Girard give this house its soul.

Girard is perhaps best known as the textile designer for Herman Miller Furniture Company from 1952 to 1973. One of the pre-eminent designers of his generation, Girard’s work has experienced a surge in popularity in the last decade.  His spirited designs now can be found on Kate Spade bags, Electra bicycles and Urban Outfitters pillows.

In Columbus, Indiana, Girard-inspired designs have never fallen out of fashion.  His influence is a testament to the friendship he shared with the Millers, especially Xenia.

If you know where to look, you’ll see his handiwork throughout the city.  Start with North Christian Church, which is full of tell tale signs of Girard’s handiwork.  The church was yet another example of a collaboration between Saarinen, Kiley and Girard (Saarinen died three years before the church was completed in 1964).

North Christian Church.

Sitting at the center of the hexagonal sanctuary is a substantial communion table, ringed by 12 seats for the church elders. Throughout the year, the cushions on these seats will transition from green to red to purple to white, in step with the liturgical calendar. This mirrors an idea Girard incorporated successfully in the Miller’s home. Cushion covers and pillows in the conversation pit were changed with the seasons, featuring pale neutrals in warm months and deep reds in winter.  The interiors of both the Miller House and North Christian Church are clean, stark and neutral.  Girard switched out the textiles to transform the interiors with the changing seasons.

Girard added additional ornamentation inside the church, with elaborate rod-iron flower stands in the main sanctuary and candelabras of similar design in the baptistery.  Also in the sanctuary, one can sometimes see a brightly-colored “Tree of Life” appliqué, designed by Girard, although the piece is showing signs of wear and is rarely on display.

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Filed under: Miller House


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