After launching a lengthy international search, the Scott Stulen was selected as Philbrook Museum of Art’s new director. Stulen’s top-notch experience, leadership and unique approach to engaging audiences with art hints at things to come.
TK: What are three adjectives that describe you?
Stulen: Passionate, Creative and Approachable
TK: Where were you employed prior to accepting the position at Philbrook, and what was your role?
Stulen: I was the Curator of Audience Experiences and Performance at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the first position of its kind in the country. At IMA I created engaging (and often surprising) exhibitions and programs to connect new audiences with the museum collection and campus.
TK: What interested you about the director’s position at Philbrook?
Stulen: Many things. The beautiful campus, the uniquely positioned downtown space, financial stability, a dedicated board, talented staff, rich and diverse collection and all set inside a vibrant Midwestern city. But most importantly I have admired how Philbrook has become a community-focused institution, striving to be an innovator while embracing risk…precisely the place I want to work.
TK: I noticed from your Instagram page that you like Legos. Has this always been a favorite? When did your hobby begin?
Stulen: I have loved Legos since I was a kid. My favorite were the classic space Legos of the 1980s (think Benny from the Lego Movie). I would spend hours in my room crafting complicated narratives around my own creations, including LOTS of spaceships. As an adult, I like building architecture models (and get help from the boys). Recently I had one of my Lego models of the Miller House in Columbus, Indiana, in an exhibition of mid-century modern buildings. (The Miller House is an example of American modernism, designed by Eero Saarinen and Associates. A National Historic Landmark, the house and gardens are owned by the Indianapolis Museum of Art.)
The Philbrook Museum of Art has always been a community-focused institution, making Scott Stulen, who was named the museum’s new director in June, a great fit to lead the museum forward. Stulen formerly worked at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, where he created the first curatorial department dedicated to audience experience in the U.S., and he plans to use that experience to continue and enhance Philbrook’s role as a cornerstone in Tulsa’s cultural community. We recently spoke with Stulen to get his thoughts on…
…what’s exciting about starting as director of Philbrook.
There are a lot of things. One is Philbrook is on the cutting edge of where the future of museums is going. I’ve been following the work of what they’re doing there for several years, and I’m excited to take it to the next chapter.
…expanding the programming available at the museum.
I really hope that we have at Philbrook a place people can come for very different experiences multiple times during the year. You might come for a holiday light show, then for a music festival and later for drinks and a movie with your friends. I think vibrant cultural institutions like museums should be a hub for those things. Philbrook has already been doing a lot of this, so I think the thing is to come in and enhance it and take it a little further.
Needless to say, there was a bit of a hubbub on social media. Two criticisms arose: One, the edgy ideas weren’t good or were offensive, and two, the museum shouldn’t be asking the public to help decide its shows. As in all debates between the new and the old, you could tell everyone’s opinion teetered between the camp of traditionalists and purists and the camp of edgy innovators.Too many people believe that something must be serious, honorable and unpopular, or frivolous and populist. But the country’s history is paved with influential artists who brought something new to the table — and captured the attention of millions.
Among the new things the IMA has brought to the table: a trivia night, movie nights, anInternet cat video festival, album listening parties, a video game-themed playable carand a concert for college students. These new events, many of them created under the helm of curator for audience experiences and performance Scott Stulen, coexist within the same artistic ecosystem as the museum’s fine arts exhibits.
The Philbrook Museum of Art’s board of trustees has announced that Scott Stulen, curator of audience experiences and performance at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, has been appointed director. Stulen succeeds Rand Suffolk, who joined Atlanta’s High Museum of Art last fall. Stulen will take up the position in August.
Bill Thomas, chair of Philbrook’s board, said, “Not only is he regarded as one of the nation’s rising stars in art museum management, but he shares the Philbrook philosophy of an art museum’s role in society, which is to be open, community-centric, and inspirational.”
Earlier this summer, Scott Stulen, Indianapolis Museum of Art Curator of Audience Experiences and Performance, announced his departure to become director of the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Okla. The first week of August is his last at the museum, so we spoke with Stulen about some of his work and where the IMA is headed.
NUVO: What kind of things did you want to do at the IMA that you couldn’t because of the size of the institution?
Scott Stulen: Yeah, I think it’s more just the speed. Not so much that you can’t, but I think those things will happen eventually. But looking at things like what hours we are open — some basic things like that. We need to be open more evenings to meet audiences. I think that’s eventually going to happen over there, but it’s something that just can’t happen overnight as much as I wish it could. The one thing that I kind of regret, that I won’t get a chance to do myself there is working on a pretty major exhibition that was going to be in 2017 that may still go forward without me … was going to be taking some of my programing ideas and putting them into a gallery. I think that’s something that kind of interesting. But it’s important for an institution like the IMA, is to figure out what do these different experiments look like. It’s one thing to do them outside or in the garden, but it’s a whole other thing to do them inside in the gallery, and what does that look like and what does that mean for an institution.
Scott Stulen, the enterprising curator who brought cat videos, mini-golf and college nights to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, will be leaving his job to become the director of the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, Okla.
He is the IMA’s curator of audience experiences and performance, a position that involves bringing in visitors through events and audience interaction. Best known for helping create the first Internet Cat Video Festival at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Stulen helmed more than 125 new programs at the IMA during a key time for the museum as it strives to expand its balance sheet and its appeal. Indianapolis-based independent curator Mindy Taylor Ross said Stulen successfully struck the balance between creating fun and serious offerings.”Scott was the first person here in town who was doing an interesting and good job at balancing entertainment with art,” she said. “All of us in the creative community understand the issue of ‘Who is the next generation of audiences and, beyond that, donors?'”
It was never just about cats.
Scott Stulen and Katie Hill, a colleague at the Walker Art Center, came up with an idea of taking examples of online content — videos that people typically watched alone, viewing them on smartphones and tablets — and curating an event in which these same images could be watched in a social setting.
“Cat videos just seemed to be an obvious choice,” Stulen said, laughing. “There were a lot of them out there, for one thing. But it wasn’t really about the content but sharing that experience, which is something we seem to be getting away from.”
Humor can get us through the workday, but for play, we need other people and the willingness to suspend all self-consciousness with them. Scott Stulen shares lessons gathered from Open Field, a three-year experiment in participation and public space at the Walker Art Center. From Live Action Role Playing to a weekly drawing club, to an Internet Cat Video Festival, Open Field is rooted in the idea that we need to learn and practice being together through playing, sharing, creating, conversing, daydreaming, and socializing.
by Lou Harry
May 30, 2015