Off The Wall: Scott Stulen at the IMA

The curator sketches out the museum’s future—with your input.
Ahem. Make that Thursday. Thursday, December 11, to be precise. That’s when the Indianapolis Museum of Art will host its first-ever Monster Drawing Rally. There will be no pyrotechnics or metal-crushing action, but an ego or two might get bruised. A fundraiser for a new IMA endowment for educational programming, the Monster Drawing Rally will feature 60-plus local artists working in three one-hour shifts (at 6, 7, and 8 p.m.), creating as many original drawings as they can in their allotted time. Each drawing will sell for a flat fee of $35. Attendance is free.
It’s not your everyday art-museum event, but the IMA has pursued a lot of unorthodox programs lately. Two years into the reign of CEO Charles Venable, who was hired to help increase revenue, the organization continues to strive for a bigger, younger audience. The hiring of Scott Stulen, who is spearheading the Monster Drawing Rally, is its boldest move yet in that direction.
Hailing from Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center, Stulen is the nation’s first art-museum employee to hold the title of curator of audience experiences and performance. In the museum world, he’s best known for pioneering the Internet Cat Video Festival, which was just what it sounds like. In hiring Stulen, the IMA has sent a clear message that it’s willing to do similarly unconventional things to draw visitors. He has already shaken things up with happenings such as B-Movie Bingo and an evening of yoga, meditation, and silent films. But he insists he isn’t here to turn the place into the Walmart of art museums. He is a curator, after all—a title that carries with it an expectation of academic rigor.
For an idea of what to expect from Stulen in the future, look to his work at Open Field, a green lot adjacent to the Walker Art Center that he helped transform into a vibrant community-arts space. Open Field became a platform for Stulen’s alternately experimental and crowd-pleasing programs, from the Internet Cat Video Festival to community yoga classes and book clubs.
Open Field consisted of four acres; the IMA is home to 150. Although nothing is cast in stone yet, Stulen envisions an indie-rock festival there and an event that includes the video game Pong being played on an oversized screen in the amphitheater.
Stulen also wants to know what you would do with the space. He regularly solicited ideas from patrons in Minneapolis, and he expects to do more of the same at the IMA. Stulen even has plans to create an occasional “open office” in the museum, when his staff will work in the entry pavilion so visitors can come up to share ideas with them. “I want to break down the idea of curators as inaccessible,” he says. “That doesn’t mean we’ll do every wild thing that somebody suggests. But it does mean listening to and responding to our audience.”

Three Upcoming Events by Scott Stulen

Art Crossfit
A six-week course that will cover the museum’s collection, from Ancient Greece through the contemporary galleries, is scheduled for February. No exercise required.
First reported in IM, this all-night projection festival (date in 2016 to be determined) will take over sports-bar televisions, iPhone screens, and the sides of buildings to make contemporary video art more accessible.
Grown-Up Camp
Next fall, the IMA will host adult campers as they construct Lego buildings with architects, learn to create letterpress prints, and, yes, sleep in tents on the grounds.