When approached by people taking surveys—whether they’re lurking outside Nordstrom or the ballpark—I usually beg off. I’d much rather answer questions at my leisure, carefully considering each reply like the Type-A personality I am. But when a woman with a thick, brunette ponytail gently pleaded with my husband and me to participate in a study she was conducting at the Indianapolis Museum of Art recently, I couldn’t resist—especially after reading “Painting by Numbers,” contributor Matt Gonzales’s story about the IMA’s new “let the people decide” strategy for finally hitting that million-visitors-a-year mark.
Though the exhibit my husband and I had just finished exploring—the busy “Ai Weiwei: According to What?”—often focused on the Chinese dissident artist’s reaction to his Communist homeland, democracy was in full swing in the gardens. It was there that Camellia began her spiel. She was a researcher from Bloomington’s Rockman et al., an independent consultancy firm. The museum wanted to make its signage clearer. Would we take a Snapp camera, shoot pictures of the grounds’ signs that didn’t make sense, and report back for a short Q&A?
Yes. This would be our chance to join the hoi polloi now voicing an opinion on how the IMA operates. And you know what? We actually found a few things that could be improved. Outdated maps. Confusing terminology. A barely navigable path in the Ravine Garden. We resisted including a snapshot of the newish 100 Acres installation, Notice: A Flock of Signs, and returned to share our findings.
The adventure reminded me that getting your audience’s viewpoint is not always a bad thing. We often trot down to Starbucks on the Circle to show potential magazine covers to strangers. Thinking commercially is something we share with the museum—at least to a point. It’s IM’s authority (achieved through stellar reporting, if I do say so) that has earned the trust of our readers. This is the important issue you should be paying attention to. That is the best Italian spot in town. Will the value the IMA’s curators provide—challenging our thinking with shows like Ai Weiwei’s, telling us what art we should be clamoring for—continue as the museum is democratized? You should read Gonzales’s story.
Amanda Heckert is the editor-in-chief of Indianapolis Monthly.
This article appeared in the September 2013 issue.