What I Know: Maxwell Anderson

Moving on: He is leaving town at the end of the month to head the Dallas Museum of Art.
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.