Scott Stulen leaving IMA post to head Philbrook Museum of Art
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?'”
“This is a huge blow for the IMA,” Ross said.
Stulen will begin working at the Philbrook on Aug. 22, closing out a 2½-year tenure at the IMA.
He led a team to create events such as the Avant Brunch, which invited local chefs such as Neal Brown of Pizzology and Libertine Liquor Bar to create a special dish while participants listened to a new album, often from international indie acts. The event sold out on a regular basis.
Stulen’s most recent program was an 18-hole mini-golf course designed by Hoosier artists and inspired by the state’s history. The interactive exhibit included the iconic Willie the Whale, a tribute to Guns N’ Roses and Van Halen, as well as Kurt Vonnegut’s writing desk.
“The Indianapolis community has been equally welcoming, friendly and supportive since the day we arrived,” Stulen wrote in an email to friends and colleagues Wednesday. “Indy will hold a special place in our lives, and we will follow all of the amazing things yet to come.”
Stulen’s departure comes at a time when the IMA is redefining its role as a traditional encyclopedic museum, a brick-and-mortar building housing exhibits and collections. Since its move to an $18 admission policy, the museum has pushed more events, touted its outdoor gardens and marketed itself as “more than a museum.”
Under Stulen, attendance at the museum’s events more than tripled, according to an IMA release. One key to a museum’s relevance in the modern age, Stulen said, is balancing traditional exhibits with more programs that get new visitors through the door.
The IMA will be looking for a new curator of audience experiences and performance, a job that oversees a team of six staff members.
“We will continue to build on this foundation of engaging, community-centered programming that challenges the perception of a typical art museum,” IMA Director and CEO Charles Venable said in an email.
Arts philanthropist Jeremy Efroymson said Stulen leaves big shoes to fill.
“Who will replace Scott? There’s not a lot of people like him,” he said.
Stulen’s role, Efroymson said, was especially important after the IMA began charging admission.
The IMA “wanted memberships to be a substantial revenue source. But if you want that, you have to have reasons to go there,” Efroymson said. “That’s what Scott was doing, making it an exciting place to be for young people and for families and for single people.”
When Stulen was hired in March 2014, his job wasn’t just new to the IMA — the idea of a curator in charge of live experiences was and still is a novel idea in the museum world.
New ideas weren’t always embraced. When the IMA released a survey in March asking participants whether they would be interested in a murder mystery tour at the Lilly House or an exhibit on robots, some questioned those programs.
Stulen admitted “it’s hard to enact radical change from the middle,” but noted, “I’m not leaving because of anything at the IMA. It’s just this opportunity. It was too big to pass up.”
His last day at the IMA is July 8.
Call IndyStar reporter Wei-Huan Chen at (317) 444-6249. Follow him on Twitter: @weihuanchen.