INDYSTAR: Scott Stulen’s love of cat videos made him an art museum sensation, but he’s no one-trick kitty.
Scott Stulen’s love of cat videos made him an art museum sensation, but he’s no one-trick kitty.
Newly hired as the first-ever curator of audience experiences and performance at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Stulen’s assignment is to attract attendees to the museum’s galleries as well as 100 Acres art and nature park, Tobias Theater, outdoor amphitheater and Lilly House and gardens.
His track record at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis includes the surprise success of the Internet Cat Video Festival, which brought 10,000 people together in a field in 2012 and then 11,000 paying customers at the 2013 Minnesota State Fair.
“It’s been a unique ride, I can say that for sure,” Stulen said during a Tuesday phone interview. “I think it’s definitely raised my profile, and it’s given me a whole different perspective on how these events can take off. I’m very interested in putting that aside and learning how I can develop the next cat video festival at IMA — in something that isn’t cats.”
The cat video festival debuted at Open Field, a space adjacent to the Walker where Stulen co-developed projects with the museum, independent artists and the public.
“We had the ability to do more experimental programs that didn’t make as much sense inside the museum and had a lot more creative freedom,” he said.
As Stulen explained during an appearance at the 2012 TEDx Indianapolis event, Open Field thrives on new ideas, experimentation and community.
IMA director and CEO Charles Venable said he created the audience experiences and performance position to help the museum keep pace with what the public wants.
“We need more people engaged with the IMA,” Venable said. “Like all institutions, we want to grow the number of people we’re able to serve.”
Venable said Stulen will work to “connect the dots” between the museum’s resources, specifically its collections and venues.
“I’m ancient compared to him,” said Venable, perhaps overstating the gap between his 53 years and Stulen’s 39. “He’s attuned to the changed world in terms of what technology is driving us all and how we engage with the universe.”
Venable said Stulen’s compensation is “in range with talented curators on our staff and also at other institutions.”
While declining to attach a figure to Stulen’s salary, Venable noted that Stulen is less experienced and holds fewer degrees than Lisa Freiman, the IMA senior curator who left the museum to become director of the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2013.
According to public records, the IMA paid Freiman a salary of $136,109 in 2011.
Hired in August 2012, Venable weathered an early tenure defined by staff layoffs and curator exits.
He reports that only one curator position, in the field of contemporary art, is presently vacant.
He adds that five of six senior leadership positions are filled, with recent hire Connie Dyer (deputy director for marketing and external affairs) joining Jerry Wise (chief financial officer), Preston Bautista (deputy director for public programs and audience engagement), Kathryn Haigh (deputy director for collections, exhibitions and facilities management) and Mark Zelonis (Ruth Lilly deputy director of environmental & historic preservation).
The museum plans to hire a deputy director for development and institutional advancement.
Stulen said he subscribes to Venable’s vision for the museum as a frequent destination for visitors rather than a once-a-year diversion.
“I’m really into finding programming that can be flexible,” Stulen said. “Sometimes it’s something where two or three people experience it. And sometimes it’s something for 10,000 people.”
Lil’ Bub, the Bloomington-based cat that’s racked up more than 100,000 YouTube subscribers, attended both editions of the Internet Cat Video Festival.
Stulen marvels at the festival’s success at the Minnesota State Fair.
“Depeche Mode was the night before us, and we outsold them by 3,000 tickets — to watch cat videos,” he said.
Stulen will begin his tenure at the IMA on March 17.
Call Star reporter David Lindquist at (317) 444-6404. Follow him on Twitter: @317Lindquist.