The year 2015 marked a major milestone in the Walker Art Center’s history: for 75 years it has served as a public center dedicated to contemporary art and culture. To celebrate, we invited artists and our community to come together and join us in a series of WALKER@75 exhibitions, programs, and events that launched in the fall of 2014 and culminated with the public announcement of a major campus renovation that commenced in August 2015. At the heart of our celebration was an examination of the many questions that have motivated and guided the Walker’s work during its 75-year history. The Walker is at its core about asking questions and has from its very beginning offered spaces and platforms for productive dialogue and debate. This long-standing institutional commitment to creative inquiry is grounded in the belief that providing a safe space for the exchange of ideas and open dialogue about the culture around us leads to a place where growth and mutual understanding become possible.
With generous sponsorship from Target, we invited our community to join us in the act of questioning, with more than 100,000 participating in the Walker’s 75th-anniversary celebration. Our festivities were supported by a transmedia exploration of the “questions that shape and inspire us.” More than 300 questions collected from Walker audiences, artists, and curators informed this effort, with 75 chosen to be highlighted in a “Question Everything” website and anthem film featured both onsite and online. The Walker People’s Archive (WPA), a compendium of Walker history from our visitors’ viewpoints, was launched in tandem with the Question Everything campaign, attracting hundreds of photos, memories, and personal stories from the past 75 years. WPA selections and the campaign were highly visible on billboards across the Twin Cities and extended through the Walker’s social media channels.
The Walker’s 75th anniversary officially launched in September 2014 with our annual benefit event Avant Garden, at which nearly 800 guests joined us for a late-summer soiree in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Co-chaired by Walker trustees Amy Kern and Wim Stocks, this festive evening affair featured host Mark Wheat of 89.3 The Current, a performance by the New Standards, music by DJ Sye Young, and an art auction. Thanks to the generosity of our committee members, sponsors, and all who attended, it was the most successful Avant Garden to date, netting more than $625,000 in support of the Walker’s operations and programs.
A series of three collection-based exhibitions were at the heart of WALKER@75 programming, starting with Art at the Center: 75 Years of Walker Collections. More than 17,000 people joined us for the opening-night party and weekend-long Walktoberfest celebration featuring free admission, family-friendly films, music performances, and a beer garden. The exhibition examined 75 years of collecting at the Walker—a history distinguished by bold and often prescient acquisitions that challenge prevailing artistic conventions and examine the social and political conditions of the day. Art at the Center also traced ways that the collection was shaped by the respective visions and collecting philosophies of its five directors as well as the generosity of the Walker family and key patrons.
Alongside Art at the Center, we presented Art Expanded, 1958–1978, an ambitious exhibition drawn from our collections, which examined a transformational phase in the history of 20th-century art when artists around the world collectively began to challenge, critique, and upend traditional media and disciplines. Combining iconic pieces with recent acquisitions and rarely seen works, Art Expanded allowed a deep exploration of this period’s unruly spirit of artistic innovation and reinvention. A companion to the exhibition was published as the second volume of the Living Collections Catalogue, the online platform dedicated to scholarly research on the Walker’s collections. Supported by the Getty Foundation, the catalogue won the award for Best of the Web in Research/Collections Online at the 2015 Museums and the Web Conference.
The third exhibition marking the Walker’s anniversary was 75 Gifts for 75 Years, which focused on the significant impact gifts of art have made on the collection throughout its history. The exhibition’s February 2015 opening launched with Winter Walkerland, an eventful indoor/outdoor community weekend featuring free gallery admission and activities for the whole family, including a free ice-skating rink in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The exhibition highlighted a wide range of key gifts to a special three-year initiative on the occasion of the Walker’s 75th anniversary, including donations of painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, video, and prints. These gifts of art were made by nearly 100 patrons who generously supported the initiative, which ultimately bolstered the collection with more than 250 works of art, and added 50 artists not previously in the collection, including Walead Beshty, Beauford Delaney, Lari Pittman, Zilia Sánchez, Luc Tuymans, and Charline von Heyl. We are deeply grateful to the many artists and donors who contributed, including seven households who promised all or part of their private collections to the Walker. I am indebted to trustees Brian Pietsch and Marge Weiser for co-chairing this special effort, and I also want to thank Brian for co-chairing the Collectors’ Council last year with trustee Jan Breyer.
Throughout our anniversary year, a series of highly visible exhibitions demonstrated the Walker’s commitment to supporting artistic experimentation and the blurring of disciplines. Beginning in July 2014, the Walker hosted Radical Presence: Black Performance in Contemporary Art, organized by the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston. This groundbreaking exhibition was the first comprehensive survey of performance art by black artists working from the perspective of the visual arts from the 1960s to the present. Featuring more than 100 works by some 36 artists, the multimedia exhibition was accompanied by a dynamic range of performances, actions, and events, providing a platform for frank discussions about race in our community and country.
Artist Ralph Lemon, a critical figure exploring intersections between the performing and visual arts, created a groundbreaking work called Scaffold Room. Perhaps Lemon’s boldest experiment to date, this Walker-commission is equal parts theater and gallery installation, merging performance, visual art, music, and text as it poses profound, sometimes disturbing questions about race and gender, memory and creativity in America. Lemon invited Walker visitors to observe the installation and rehearsals and hosted a range of public workshops and discussions; the final four performances played to sold-out audiences. As a companion to the exhibition, Lemon’s immersive sound and film work Meditation, created in partnership with Jim Findlay, ran for two weeks in the McGuire Theater.
As part of an ongoing series of solo projects by artists who have not yet had exhibitions in US museums, the Walker hosted a yearlong presentation of new work commissioned by Liz Deschenes. In planning her ambitious installation, Deschenes studied the history of the Walker’s building and gallery space to design a photographic intervention that responds to the site’s unique features. Nearly four years in the making, our most popular exhibition of the year, International Pop, attracted more than 75,000 visitors. Organized by the Walker, the show examined one of the most recognized moments of 20th-century art, when Pop burst onto the scene in the 1960s, heralding a rise of a new consumer and media age. While Pop has primarily been identified as a movement that developed in Britain and the United States, this groundbreaking exhibition chronicled the global emergence of Pop through Japan, Latin America, and both Eastern and Western Europe. A series of Pop Remix programs on Target Free Thursday Nights accompanied the exhibition, drawing more than 1,000 visitors each night for music and film programs exploring the roving spirit of the Pop movement. International Pop received significant national press attention and support from an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities and major grants from the Henry Luce Foundation, the Terra Foundation for American Art, and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, along with generous contributions from many Walker trustees and friends. Following the Walker’s presentation, supported by lead sponsor U.S. Bank, the exhibition traveled to the Dallas Museum of Art and will close at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 2016.
The buzz generated by our anniversary year and International Pop attracted more than 696,000 people to our campus last year, positioning the Walker once again among the top five most-visited modern and contemporary art museums in the country. Our strong commitment to accessibility resulted in 82 percent of all visits to the Walker and Minneapolis Sculpture Garden free of charge. Popular free admission days such as Target Free Thursday Nights and Free First Saturdays, sponsored by Ameriprise Financial and Medtronic Philanthropy, welcomed more than 67,000 people last year alone. Beyond our local audiences, the Walker continued to tour its exhibitions and commissioned performances around the globe. Last year, nearly 230,000 people engaged with 5 Walker-organized exhibitions that toured to 7 different museums, and an additional 17,000 attended thirteen Walker-commissioned performances in 27 host venues and 3 countries.
Education and Public Programs
The year marked a shift for the Education and Community Programs department, with its transition to the name Education and Public Programs in acknowledgment of an institution-wide commitment to community engagement and the Walker’s increasingly cross-disciplinary approach to interpretation and audience engagement. To lead these efforts, the Walker welcomed Nisa Mackie as the Director and Curator of Education and Public Programs in May 2015. Hailing from Sydney, Australia, Mackie joined the Walker after successfully managing education and public programs for the Biennale of Sydney. Moving forward, she is leading the Walker’s nationally recognized innovations with artist residencies, public programs, teen education, children and family programs, and interpretation efforts.
The Film/Video program also announced a shift in its departmental nomenclature to Moving Image in response to artists and filmmakers working across a variety of mediums and the Walker’s presentation of works across different platforms, from the cinema and galleries to online. The renaming commenced with the launch of two major initiatives made possible with the exceptionally generous support of the Bentson Foundation: the Walker Moving Image Commissions, a new series of artist commissions made to premiere online; and the Walker Mediatheque, a new interactive space to watch projected works from the Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection. The year 2015 also marked the 25th anniversary of the Walker Dialogue and Retrospective program. To celebrate the occasion, the Walker honored Christopher Nolan with a full retrospective of his work and welcomed the director to the Walker Cinema for an illuminating conversation with film critic Scott Foundas. The Walker also launched a new website dedicated to the series’ 25-year history, produced and screened a documentary about the program, and featured a special video installation in the exhibition Art at the Center. I want to thank Bill Pohlad and Elizabeth Redleaf for their leadership as co-chairs of the Walker Film Club.
The 2014–2015 Performing Arts Season was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed of the past decade. The season featured artists rarely seen in the United States and distinctive interdisciplinary initiatives, beginning with the Walker-commissioned Scaffold Room by Ralph Lemon. Other commissioned works included the world premiere of The Evening, a new play by Richard Maxwell, which opened the 27th Out There Festival; and Stripe Tease, a captivating dance-theater work by postmodern Minnesota choreographer Chris Schlichting, composer Jeremy Ylvisaker, and artist Jennifer Davis. Dance engagements included a two-week celebration of the influential Judson Dance Theater choreographer Steve Paxton, and the 44th Choreographers’ Evening curated by Minneapolis’ Kenna-Camara Cottman.
Global highlights included the remounted classic Rosas Danst Rosas by Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker/ROSAS; Japanese performance artist Ryoji Ikeda’s enthralling Superposition; a small festival of powerful solo dance works from Africa; and Cineastas by Argentinian vanguard director Mariano Pensotti. The music season, sponsored by Best Buy, featured sold-out Minnesota debut concerts by Chilean rapper Ana Tijoux and Berlin-based keyboardist Nils Frahm; Mexican rock guitarist David Hidalgo with avant-rock/jazz guitarist Marc Ribot; and sold-out concerts by contemporary jazz pianists Jason Moran and Robert Glasper. Closing the season was WISE BLOOD, an immersive action-opera by New York composer Anthony Gatto, Minnesota artist Chris Larson, and a large cast of actors, singers, and musicians drawn from both the East Coast and the Twin Cities. Co-commissioned and coproduced by the Walker and the Soap Factory, the ambitious production of Flannery O’Conner’s Southern novel sold out its eight performances and also attracted significant media attention. Major support for the season was provided by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation through the Doris Duck Performing Arts Fund, the William and Nadine McGuire Commissioning Fund, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and members of the Producers’ Council. I want to acknowledge Nor Hall and David Moore, Jr. for their kind service again this year as council co-chairs.
The award-winning Design department launched Minnesota by Design, a web-based collection featuring hundreds of intriguing examples of design created in Minnesota, from the humble sticky note to the Aeron chair and Target’s ClearRx prescription bottle. The project launched with the annual Insights Design Lecture Series, which invites designers to share their creative process with the public. This year’s program included a mix of established and emerging design talents, with lectures webcast and promoted among the national AIGA chapters. The Design team also collaborated with the Walker Shop to launch Intangibles, an online collection of intangible products created by artists and designers. Designed as an entirely new platform for artists and audiences to connect, this multidisciplinary project garnered significant attention from the national media, including the New York Times; magazines such as Wired, Time, and Vice; and the PBS NewsHour.
The Walker realized the culmination of a four-year initiative to rebuild, launch, and disseminate the Mn Artists flagship website, a community hub for Minnesota’s arts culture supported by the McKnight Foundation. A National Leadership Grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services underwrote the design and development of the new site, which features a growing membership of 2,400 artists, 34,000 artworks, 170 organizations, and more than 1,600 events and opportunities. In tandem with the site’s launch, Mn Artists expanded its critical coverage, inviting a broad range of writers to provide regionally rooted, nationally focused editorial content.
Pressing questions around cultural criticism led to Superscript: Arts Journalism and Criticism in a Digital Age, a three-day conference organized by the Walker and Mn Artists with support from MailChimp and the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. More than 320 writers, editors, artists, and critics from across the country convened at the Walker to participate in a robust schedule of keynote presentations and thought-provoking conversations, with countless others tuning in to the free conference webstream. An online companion to the conference hosted an ongoing series of commissioned essays by some of the field’s most incisive voices. Superscript attracted widespread attention, trending nationally on Twitter with some 2,500 tweets and sparking media coverage from a diverse array of outlets, from FlashArts, Art in America, and Rhizome to the Columbia Journalism Review.
Minneapolis Sculpture Garden
The Walker continued to host a bustling schedule of summer programs across its campus. The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden welcomed more than 408,000 visitors, maintaining its status as one of Minnesota’s top tourist attractions. The most visible and largest-scale event of the summer was the much-loved outdoor concert Rock the Garden, coproduced with Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 The Current with support from lead sponsors the Minnesota Twins, the University of Minnesota, and Summit Brewing Company. The two-day festival featured a diverse lineup of 10 bands spanning indie rock, global, and hip-hop, with headliners Modest Mouse and Belle and Sebastian, and attracted more than 19,000 concertgoers. The Garden also hosted Artist-Designed Mini Golf, sponsored by U.S. Bank/FlexPerks, with more than 41,000 golfers of all ages playing the 18-hole course designed by Minnesota artists and designers. Summer 2014 marked the fifth and final year of Open Field, with sponsorship from United Health Foundation. The Walker engaged more than 174 artists who utilized Open Field as a platform for experimentation and a laboratory for developing new ideas. Open Field also hosted the third Internet Cat Video Festival, drawing some 9,000 fans for this popular celebration of cat videos.
New Campus Plans
The insights we gained through our sustained explorations into creative place-making and community engagement directly informed our vision for the Walker’s 19-acre campus. Announced to the public in spring 2015, an ambitious renovation project will bring a unified, one-campus feel to the Walker’s expanse of urban green space. Notable changes include a new entry pavilion for the Walker, reconstruction of the 26-year-old Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, the greening of Hennepin Avenue, and the addition of hundreds of new trees to the Walker hillside and the Garden. The campus renovation will also allow the Walker to build on the 40-plus artworks already in the Garden and on the Walker campus through new commissions. Already home to iconic works by Dan Graham, Jenny Holzer, Ellsworth Kelly, and Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, the campus will welcome the next generation of signature works. A $75 million capital campaign is supporting this once-in-a-generation moment, and we are deeply grateful to our many partners for helping to make it possible. I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board for its longstanding partnership with the Garden, to the State of Minnesota and the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization for their generous support of the Garden’s reconstruction, and to the individual contributors to our campaign, including Margaret and Angus Wurtele and the Pohlad family for their incredibly generous lead gifts. Thanks to the combined support from the public and private sectors, we secured $60.1 million or 80 percent of our total $75 million goal by the end of our fiscal year, June 30, 2015. We look forward to inviting additional members of our community to help us secure the final $14.9 million to successfully complete our campaign and ambitious campus plan.
In addition to our successful fund-raising efforts for the capital campaign, I am delighted to report that the Walker finished the fiscal year with a balanced budget for the 34th consecutive year and its endowment market value remained strong at $201 million. For all that we were able to accomplish, we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude 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 under the leadership of president Pat Denzer, and our talented and passionate staff. I am tremendously grateful for your commitment, creativity, and collective efforts to advance the Walker’s mission and support the many artists and audiences we serve.