The Walker Art Center and the Bush Foundation have embarked on a new multi-year partnership which will build on the Walker’s core strengths and continue its legacy of serving as a catalyst for the creativity of the foremost thinkers, artists, and influencers in the local, national, and international communities. This is the last grant made by the Bush Foundation under its discontinued LCODF (Large Cultural Organization Development Fund) program, but also represents the Foundation’s emerging focus on courageous leadership as part of its Goals for a Decade. Outlined in 2008, the Goals for a Decade include developing and supporting courageous leadership that engages entire communities to solve tough problems. The Walker, which has a long history of experimentation and innovation at the cultural forefront, is excited to partner with the Bush Foundation to strengthen the Walker’s relationship within the community.
Bush Foundation Vice President Pamela Wheelock leads the Foundation’s work toward its leadership/community engagement goal. She said, “With this grant to the Walker Art Center, the Foundation gets a one-two punch. We plug in to the courageous leadership of Olga Viso, who epitomizes the type of community leadership the Foundation strives to recognize and support, and we leverage the willingness of this significant organization to refocus its programming on engaging the community. We’ll be watching to see what exciting new initiatives the Walker and the community co-create.”
As part of this new partnership, the Walker will receive $625,800 from the Bush Foundation to fund an initiative entitled
Expanding the Rules of Engagement with Artists and Audiences and Fostering Creative Capital in our Community
. With the Foundation’s generous support, the Walker is embarking on a period of experimentation with cross-disciplinary presentations of its collections and new outreach approaches. The grant period, which began in October 2009, runs through December 31, 2011.
Finding itself at the intersection of unprecedented and ever-shifting economic, artistic, and audience-related forces, the Walker has re-envisioned its position and strategic direction as an internationally acclaimed multidisciplinary art center. Guiding the institution through 2014, a five-year strategic plan, created under new staff and board leadership, includes a number of new initiatives that will transform how the Walker operates within this rapidly changing landscape in which the conventional roles of artist-as-sole-creator, audience-as-passive-receiver, and curator-as-institutional-gatekeeper are being rewritten. With funds provided by the Bush Foundation, the Walker will change its “rules of engagement” with artists and audiences—how it communicates with its constituents, how it engages artists and cultural leaders, and how it invites audiences to be active participants in the creation and interpretation of its programs.
“While our economy would suggest this is a moment to pull back, we believe it offers tremendous potential for cultural institutions to move forward and foster vital creative communities,” said Walker director Olga Viso. “We are tremendously grateful for the Bush Foundation’s support, which allows us to test new strategies and evaluate their success as well as continue to present innovative artistic programming.”
The first implementation of the Walker’s Expanding the Rules of Engagement initiatives are the currently running exhibitions Event Horizon and Benches & Binoculars, the first major installations of its multidisciplinary collections since the opening of an expanded complex in 2005. Unfolding over a nearly three-year period, a series of temporary exhibitions, which underscore the breadth, depth, and range of the Walker’s resources, alter the tone and presentation style of the galleries by including experimental “active zones” and “participatory encounters” for programmers, artists, and visitors. Active zones expand opportunities for guest programmers—voices beyond the Walker, both local and global—to create special projects, including animating the galleries, mining archives, illuminating histories, and staging performances. Artist commissions, at the forefront of the Walker’s mission, will be presented, including one that will engage the talents of artists from the Minneapolis St. Paul community.
Over the course of the grant period, visitors will be able to access a palette of resources—analog and digital, static and mobile. Card Catalogue, a new approach to the traditional gallery guide, is an evolving publication featuring information on artists, exhibition themes, specific works, and a wealth of facts and artifacts from the Walker’s archives. Many authors and voices are slated to contribute to this experimental project, which provides an expanded and amplified history of the Walker and of contemporary art in general.
To connect the physical and virtual worlds of the Walker, online resources will be enhanced with new tools and features that embrace participatory Web 2.0 culture and create new opportunities for external programmers and audiences to be engaged at the Walker, both throughout its campus and in the community at large. Walker Channel, an online site for live and archived Webcasts of artist talks, filmmakers’ conversations, and post-performance discussions, will be expanded to allow audiences to integrate their own voices and knowledge via wireless-capable technology, such as smart phones and PDAs. Look Closer Videos—accessible on social media sites—will feature short commentaries by curators and others on the many facets of Walker programs.
The Bush Foundation grant will also allow the Walker to research and launch new outreach approaches that go beyond conventional models to invite audiences to become more active participants as co-creators, contributors, and advocates of Walker programs. These relational strategies will deepen the Walker’s engagement with its core constituents as well as expand its network of possible participants. As the entire world is seeing a shift in the role audiences play in selecting and experiencing content, the Walker is taking a lead among arts organizations in embracing this approach.
The Bush Foundation has provided crucial support at key moments in the Walker’s history, most recently in 2003 when it awarded a $725,000 grant to fund a More than a Museum initiative, which allowed for the development and evaluation of innovative programs to attract new audiences, new audience engagement research, and the “town square” concept that informed both the design of a recent building expansion and artistic and educational programming. A 1999 Bush Foundation grant of $1 million propelled the Walker forward as a global presenting and collecting institution, engaging its audiences with art and artists reflective of our own diverse community.