Mixing Up the Art Scene: Scott Stulen

Cardboard Fort Building at IMA Family Day

“Different audiences are wanting to consume art in a different way than our culture has been consuming in the past. And we can do it without compromising the core mission of the institution. The arts can sometimes take themselves too seriously.”

Scott Stulen is changing the way people view art in Indianapolis. The Curator of Audience Experiences and Performance is bringing more interaction to the IMA through new events and activities. Kate Wickwire sat down with Scott to discuss how the IMA is changing and what is on the horizon for the museum.  

How is the IMA gaining traction with their newest programming?
By acknowledging it’s more than a trend—people are reshaping museums as a whole, all over the country.  It’s a younger audience wanting things that are interactive and more participatory. That then appeals to all audiences. It may be driven by young people but older audiences are responding. But we’re not replacing anything, because the new programs aren’t the only way to interact with the museum. We’re just breaking down people’s perceptions of how museums have traditionally been, where things are static and nothing changes—where it’s not social, and you walk around and do things by yourself.

How is the IMA different now from how art museums have been organized in the past?
This museum should be a social space where you can do things with your friends. It should be constantly changing. It shouldn’t ever be something you saw during your fieldtrip when you visited in the fourth grade. There’s new stuff every week with a wide variety of things. It’s not just about touring the galleries, but watching films and taking advantage of other opportunities. For example, we’re giving people an opportunity to not only see a film, but to also have a drink, eat some food, and take an awesome seflie shot to share on their Facebook later.

How do you try and give people a good experience?
First of all, their experience is customizable. We have to go about things with different approaches. Audiences aren’t all the same. You have to come at programming from multiple angles. We try and make it so if something’s not for you then there’s another thing that will be of interest. We have to think about how to take things that are more multidisciplinary, and how to take things that you wouldn’t expect to find in a museum, and how we can offer those things to our guests.

What if a member of a group is more introverted? Are they still able to have a good time?
Absolutely. A lot of people are introverts to some extent, and we’re very conscious of that. We’re looking to host things where nothing is ever forced or you’re singled out and feel awkward. A lot of the stuff the audience speaks to is passive participation. You enjoy being part of something that’s interactive by watching things happen.

All of this has a sense of interaction and participation. Sometimes it’s direct, or it’s observing others participate. There are different types of entry points, but we hope that people try and have a sense of fun. If you really want people to engage with difficult or complicated ideas, you have to make it fun so they don’t immediately turn off.

What kinds of multidisciplinary events will the IMA be offering in the near future?
We have our Avant Brunch this Saturday. This time we are working with Thunderbird and Joyful Noise to bring music and food together in an experience you wouldn’t expect. For this installment, Andrew Whitmoyer, Executive Chef at Thunderbird, will present a never-before-created, four-course meal accompanied by a listening of the new Son Lux record presented on our transformed Toby Theater stage. Each person receives a digital download of the record and a signed copy of the menu by the chef. Vinyl copies of the record will also be available for pre-purchase at the event from Indy CD & Vinyl.

We also have our Summer Solstice Community Day coming up, where the whole campus is open and free. We will be hosting a giant picnic at noon in the Hundred Acres. There will be food trucks if you don’t want to bring your own food, and Sun King will be there. There will be a really cool Afro-Cuban band. Then we’re doing an art swap idea where we will be partnering with the Indy Star. It’s where you can bring small works of art that you would want to trade with others, and you can barter with one another and trade works of art. And absolutely no cash can change hands—it has to be a trade.

We’re doing a grown-up summer camp. It’s an overnight camp where we work with artists and musicians and chefs. Everyone camps on the campus of the IMA, local chefs will cook you breakfast in the morning—it’s going to be really fun.

We do B-Movie Bingo, where we take a really bad movie and turn it into a game. You look for certain bad movie stereotypes, and you mark your bingo card and win prizes. We’re taking movies that aren’t good and turning it into a fun, social experience.

Then in August, we’re planning to do Art Olympics, where you can compete in several different events. We’re taking sports and combining it with art, so you can do things like take a really bad sculpture and throw it like a shot put. And we’re also going to be doing Art Crossfit classes that will be with a smaller number of people.

What kind of feedback are you seeing from the public with this new programming?
We’re seeing a positive feedback from all audiences. We tend to target younger audiences, and we’re creating more programming for families. The nice thing is the mix of people who come to our events. We have anyone from people in their 90s down to 20-something hipsters. It’s a nice blend. It has never been 100% one type of audience. It’s good to see this kind of movement between generations.

Who is on your radar when you focus your marketing efforts?
What we really want to do is bring in younger audiences of people in their 20s, 30s, or 40s—before or when they have families. That’s the future of our museum. If we don’t start replenishing people, then we’re in trouble. And if we don’t change [our programming], people aren’t going to come.

Some of our marketing is a necessity, and some is acknowledging that different audiences are wanting to consume art in a different way than our culture has been consuming in the past. And we can do it without compromising the core mission of the institution. The arts can sometimes take themselves too seriously.

The core of our efforts is going after the audience that comes occasionally or aren’t as engaged as they’d like to be, but have indicated some level of interest in the arts. We want people who have been coming once to a year to come maybe six times a year. We want them to know that there is always something happening, and things are happening more frequently. And that’s where the membership pays off.

What is your biggest challenge with the new programming?
If I can get you on campus for one thing, then I can expose you to other things you’re interested in. I just have to get you here. The IMA is competing with entertainment at every level. My challenge is that I need to convince people, whatever we have here is worth getting off your couch from watching Netflix and leaving your house. How can I make it more compelling to watch the movie here than on your couch?

So we’re partnering up with food and drink, and making things more social. We have new programming every week, but not everything changes. It’s a nice balance between our events and other exhibits that change out in the museum. We tend to plan things month by month. In one month there will be a family day, a couple film programs, and music or a performance. We have free days within each month, and then we have some things that are special that run out of our usual scheduling. We print a nice quarterly piece that gives all of the information and dates to all of that.

For more information on artX and the IMA’s upcoming programs, visit their website or follow Scott on Twitter at @middlewest.


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