What I Know: Maxwell Anderson

AGE: 55  GIG: Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art  GOOD SHOWING: Under his leadership, the IMA organized the U.S. Pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale, opened a sculpture park, acquired the Miller House, and added a formidable Design Arts collection
What did Frank Sinatra sing? “Regrets, I’ve had a few.” Like leaving some people behind who weren’t in sympathy with the direction of the museum. That includes people who lost their jobs and patrons who weren’t galvanized by our vision.
Changing the culture of an institution is not something you can fund, or ordain, or flip a switch and have happen.
You give permission, you don’t punish people for mistakes, you keep a light-hearted tone at work, and you lead by example.
Art museums are off-putting for some people because they think they won’t be able to connect with what they’re looking at. The design arts cure that overnight.
They change the dynamic from being primarily about gold-framed paintings to being about creative intentions.
Leaving Indianapolis is partly a family decision. Jacqueline, my wife, is from Texas. I felt that one more chapter would be right—in a larger city, and closer to family.
Texans are unafraid of anything. That’s very appealing to us, to be in a climate where the question is “What can we do next?” and not “Are we sure we can pull that off?”
And yes, there’s a pay raise.
You’re judged by your character in Indianapolis. In Dallas, it’s a combination of character and your level of aspiration.
Indianapolis deserves a major downtown performing-arts center. The repertory theater and the symphony perform in rehabbed movie theaters. It’s time to get on with it.
Hold a huge design competition, hire a globally renowned architect, put a big hole in the ground, and build a throbbing cultural center that will give Lucas Oil Stadium a run for its money.
Looking over my tenure, I’m proudest of the fact that the staff got wholly on board with a fearless quest for distinction.
—as told to Evan West
Photo by Tony Valainis.
This article originally appeared in the December 2011 issue.

Since first joining Indianapolis Monthly in 2000, West has written about a wide range of subjects including crime, history, arts and entertainment, pop culture, politics, and food. His feature stories have twice been noted in the Best American Sports Writing anthology and have received top honors from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. “The Collapse,” West’s account of the 2011 Indiana State Fair tragedy, was a 2013 National City and Regional Magazine Awards finalist in the category of Best Reporting. He lives on the near-east side.