Letter from the Executive Director
Breaking New Ground
By Olga Viso
December 6, 2016
When shovels hit soil in early August 2015 to launch the first phase of a renovation that will unify the 19 acres that comprise the Walker Art Center/Minneapolis Sculpture Garden campus, it was groundbreaking in both literal and figurative senses: the project is the physical manifestation of a reorientation toward our community that’s also happening behind the scenes. As we move our front door from the bustle of Hennepin Avenue to the green expanse of the Garden, we’re working to make the Walker even more open and responsive to artists and audiences alike.
We consider the new main entrance, which opened on Vineland Place this November, as not just a doorway but a welcome mat. Set within the green, rolling landscape of the Wurtele Upper Garden, the new entry beckons visitors from across the street in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden with the new restaurant and bar Esker Grove, a new shopping experience, an artist project space featuring a rotating selection of new commissioned work, and the more visible Walker Cinema and renovated Bentson Mediatheque. The green roof above the entry will connect with winding, wheelchair-accessible pathways leading to 11 sculptures, including new works by artists ranging from Aaron Spangler and Nairy Baghramian to longtime favorites by Kinji Akagawa, Franz West, Alexander Calder, and others. A narrowed Vineland Place will slow traffic and provide a stronger visual connection between the upper garden and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. And new greening on Vineland and Hennepin will reduce concrete, providing a verdant buffer around the building itself.
Through a partnership with the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden will reopen in June 2017 with nearly 20 new artworks following a $10 million infrastructure renovation that will restore a beloved Minnesota landmark while providing new native habitat and protecting the waters of the Mississippi River. Features include a new meadow filled with native plants as well as enhanced turf that will be both beautiful and offer better drainage for the park, a former wetland. An 80,000-gallon underground cistern will capture water from the fountain-sculpture Spoonbridge and Cherry, redistributing it to irrigate the Garden and the adjacent baseball field. The system will reuse nearly 5 million gallons per year—water previously destined for the city’s storm sewer system and, ultimately, the river.
From top to bottom, the Walker’s commitment to advancing diversity and inclusion initiatives across the institution is making a difference. Staff diversity continues to improve with the addition of more staff of color and people with disabilities. The diversity of the Walker Board of Trustees has also more than doubled since 2014. Both are the result of recruitment and hiring initiatives geared toward achieving board and staff demographics that match or surpass that of our state. Women comprise 45 percent of the Walker’s workforce and board of trustees, including many top executive and leadership positions. Additionally, we’ve instituted a new education program that will connect 13 paid educators—half bilingual, and many with specializations in special needs and/or English language learners (ELL) education—to create programs specific to the needs of our audiences. We continue or work with a consortium of 10 Twin Cities arts organizations to leverage each other’s diversity and inclusion knowledge and strategies. And our collecting and commissioning of artworks—from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to the Performing Arts season, our exhibitions program to the global films screened in the Walker Cinema—are increasingly diverse, mixing local and international artists, including Nairy Baghramian, Frank Big Bear, Theaster Gates, Philippe Parreno, and others.
Along with physical and natural improvements to the campus, the year saw a big investment in virtual ones as well. Slated for a June 2017 launch, a new Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA)-compliant, mobile-first website will improve upon our industry-leading homepage, better serving visitors while continuing to provide the stories behind the art and artists we present. Wi-Fi will be available throughout the Walker campus, indoors and out, giving visitors access to the Walker site, or any website, from the grove, the garden, or the galleries.
Programmatically, the year combined bold artistic statements, innovative curatorial approaches, and strong support from audiences. Thanks in large part to the exhibitions International Pop and Hippie Modernism, we saw the highest paid gallery attendance in eight years and near-record-breaking free attendance. Outside, we hosted crowd-pleasing programs—from a very special Rock the Garden concert on Boom Island in June to Skyline Mini Golf, a rollicking nine-hole course sponsored by U.S. Bank FlexPerks that brought nearly 17,000 people to the Walker’s rooftop terraces—while inside we continued our decades-long commitment to dissolving the barriers between artistic disciplines. Under artistic director Fionn Meade, who joined the Walker in 2014, we’ve expanded our staff of curators and educators with this focus in mind. We emphasized collaborations between our Visual Arts, Moving Image, and Performing Arts departments, through programs including the Moving Image Commissions, the New Circuits curatorial convening on performance curation, and in-gallery performances within the Sound Horizon rubric.
Being a vital part of our community means being a fiscally sound one. I am delighted to report that the Walker finished the year with a balanced budget for the 35th consecutive year and its endowment market value remained strong at $189 million. For all that we were able to accomplish, we are tremendously grateful to you—the many visitors, members, trustees, foundations, corporate partners, and government organizations that support us year after year. Your generosity allows us to maintain a strong financial position while presenting some of the most adventurous art and artists of our time. I would like to offer special acknowledgment to the voters of Minnesota for supporting the Walker through a Minnesota State Arts Board Operating. Support grant, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund, and to our Premier Partners—Delta Air Lines, General Mills, Star Tribune, and Target. Lastly, I want to express my deepest gratitude to our dedicated board of trustees—including outgoing president Pat Denzer and new president Monica Nassif—and our talented and passionate staff.
I am tremendously grateful for everyone’s commitment, creativity, and collective efforts to advance the Walker’s mission and support the many artists and audiences we serve. It was a memorable year!