Letter From The Executive Director
When the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden reopened to the public on June 10, 2017, the Walker Art Center had nearly reached the end of an exciting and busy 2016–2017 fiscal year. It’s worth pausing for a minute, first, to look back at the extraordinary activities and programs that took place between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017, and, second, to celebrate the successful completion of a $76 million capital campaign. With this funding, the Walker unified the museum’s campus and Garden into a more welcoming, environmentally sustainable destination for the next generation of art enthusiasts. It’s also important to acknowledge that an experimental institution such as the Walker can make missteps, and, hopefully, recover and learn from them. The year 2017 has certainly been an exceptional time for the Walker to learn in public, which will have impacts well beyond the fiscal year reviewed here.
An Art-Filled Campus for
the Next Generation
To begin, summer 2017 marked the end of more than eight years of collaborating, planning, fund-raising, and working to reconstruct the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, landscape the 5-acre greenspace adjacent to the Walker (now known as the Wurtele Upper Garden), add a new main entrance and restaurant located on Vineland Place, renovate the entire facade of our iconic 1971 building, and grow the institution’s operating endowment. I am proud that the designs for all of the projects take advantage of the latest sustainability technologies, including a green roof over the new main entry, rainwater collection for reuse in the Garden, and a greening of the streetscape along Hennepin Avenue. In addition, more than 300 trees have been planted in the new landscape. I’m equally proud that a total of 60 sculptures, including 17 new works, now animate the 19-acre expanse comprising the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board’s 12-acre property and the Walker’s 7-acre campus.
When we opened our new main lobby, building entrance, and entrance plaza in November 2016, the spaces were an instant hit with visitors and press. “The Vineland Place addition, like all great design, looks effortless. …With its new lobby and new landscape, the Walker Art Center has given this community the very best the design world has to offer, all for us to use and enjoy,” says University of Minnesota School of Architecture professor and Minnesota Design Center director Thomas Fisher, writing for the Star Tribune. The Walker is indebted to Joan Soranno and John Cook of Minneapolis-based HGA Architects for their elegant and effective design.
People have been equally effusive about the reconstructed Minneapolis Sculpture Garden designed by Thomas Oslund of oslund.and.assoc. in partnership with Julie Snow of Snow Kreilich Architects. More than 16,000 individuals visited the Garden the very first day it opened, and nearly 150,000 visitors strolled through the site during the month of June alone. When the Garden reopened to the public, the Walker marked the occasion by offering a wide variety of activities, including free gallery admission from June 2 through 10 as well as an opening celebration with artist projects, food trucks, picnicking, and giveaways. These events, and many others throughout the summer, were generously supported by Target, the Walker’s Campus Opening sponsor and longstanding partner. The popular artist-designed mini-golf course also opened in June, located back in the Garden, with generous sponsorship from U.S. Bank’s FlexPerks Rewards. More than 20,000 mini-golfers have enjoyed the views of the park, the city, and surrounding sculptures.
In addition to completing our campus plan and presenting today’s most exciting art and artists through a diverse array of original programs, the Walker launched a new website on June 22, 2017, featuring more user-friendly, streamlined navigation and visibility for visitor information. Some 2 million users visited the Walker’s websites this fiscal year, which include walkerart.org and mnartists.org.
The wonderful brick-and-mortar advancements that came to fruition during the year were complemented by a great deal of innovative programming, including 13 exhibitions, 69 performance events, 200 moving image screenings, and hundreds of tours, lectures, workshops, panel discussions, and other educational and public programs. These programs attracted nearly 400,000 people to the Walker and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden (which was open for less than one month during the entire year), despite road closures and extensive construction to the Walker’s campus. Supporting the Walker’s commitment to accessibility, more than 70 percent of audiences visited free of charge through gateway programs—such as Free First Saturday and Target Free Thursday Nights—and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. An active collaborator, the Walker sustained more than 100 partnerships and presentations with cultural, research, and service organizations, contributing to the vibrancy of our community. Additionally, we embarked on an interdisciplinary initiative supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, which runs from July 2017 through December 2019. This initiative focuses on the intersection of performance, performing arts, and visual arts by supporting newly commissioned work by nine artists as well as in-depth scholarship into the past and future of interdisciplinary art at the Walker.
In fall 2016, the Walker showcased Question the Wall Itself, a multimedia exhibition of work by 23 international, multigenerational artists, which examined ways that interior spaces can be fundamental to the understanding of cultural identity. Other visual arts highlights included Katharina Fritsch: Multiples, featuring 40 pieces drawn from the Walker’s collection by an artist known for rendering the everyday uncanny through alterations of scale, color, material, or unexpected repetition. Sponsored by U.S. Bank, the exhibition was presented as a companion to the installation of Fritsch’s monumental rooster, Hahn/ Cock (2013/2017), in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. In June, the Walker hosted the first comprehensive North American survey of Jimmie Durham’s art, which included sculpture-based installations, drawings, painting, photography, video, and performance documentation.
The Walker also celebrated its landmark acquisition of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection with a major interdisciplinary exhibition, new commissions, a series of performances, and a catalogue. Merce Cunningham: Common Time was the first show to measure the late choreographer and dancer’s indelible impact on generations of artists. The largest exhibition organized by the Walker in its history, Common Time explored the full breadth and influence of Cunningham’s prolific 70-year career. The project attracted more than 80,000 visitors and extensive press coverage including pieces in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Star Tribune, and on National Public Radio.
Performing arts highlights included new commissions from innovative dancemakers—such as dance-theater artist Pavel Zuštiak’s Custodians of Beauty and Karen Sherman’s Soft Goods—and immersive experimental theater presentations including Bessie Award–winner Okwui Okpokwasili’s Walker-commissioned Poor People’s TV Room. Also featured in the season was the Bookend Festival, celebrating visual artist/dancemaker Jérôme Bel, which included his newest piece, GALA, as well as his earliest signature work, the self-titled Jérôme Bel. The annual Out There festival of new performance alternatives presented Andrew Schneider’s YOUARENOWHERE, Faye Driscoll’s Walker-commissioned Thank You for Coming: Play, Okpokwasili’s aforementioned piece, and Philippe Quesne’s La Mélancolie des Dragons. The music season showcased one of the most influential composers working in avant-jazz today, Steve Coleman, as well as performances by Amir ElSaffar and Tunde Adebimpe.
Moving Image programs at the Walker included popular series such as the British Arrows Awards, highlighting the best in British advertising; Cinema of Urgency, exploring pressing and compelling issues through documentary filmmaking; and the annual Walker Dialogue and Retrospective program, which featured iconoclastic actor and director Robert Redford. In November 2016, in tandem with the opening of Walker’s new entrance, the interactive Bentson Mediatheque was redesigned and reopened, thanks to support from the Bentson Foundation, offering visitors a revolutionary digital viewing platform for the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection.
Education and Public Programs
I’m also very proud that the Walker’s Education and Public Programs department engaged the community through more than 175 activities. Museum free days, including Target Free Thursday Nights and Free First Saturday, waived gallery admission thanks to generous underwriting from Target, Ameriprise Financial, and the Medtronic Foundation. Both of these gateway programs serve as a first point of entry for many Walker visitors, including critical audiences of teens and families, and cut across the Walker’s artistic disciplines. For example, Target Free Thursday Nights included music performances, live animation, and workshops, while monthly Free First Saturdays employed a total of 93 artists to engage kids and families in exploration and discovery through art-making, music, and film. The department also mounted teamLab: Graffiti Nature–Still Mountains and Moveable Lakes, a beautiful interactive installation that delighted thousands of visitors.
The Walker’s Teen Programs served youth through special programs, art-making events, and artist-led workshops, with support from Best Buy and the Surdna Foundation, and more than 60,000 teens visited the Walker’s galleries for free, thanks to Wells Fargo. Through the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC), the Walker provided young people with leadership opportunities, internships, workshops, and a robust curriculum that examined the intersection of artistic practice and social issues.
In fiscal year 2016–2017, the Walker’s Tour Programs facilitated gallery and workshop experiences for some 6,700 students and groups, thanks to underwriting from the United Health Foundation and a Museums for America grant from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. The tour program continued to be complemented by Art Lab workshops, which offer hands-on art-making designed to enhance the learning outcomes of gallery tours. Regular evaluations over the course of the past year brought to light the fact that the Art Lab garners a 92 percent positive feedback rating from teachers and participants.
Learning in Public
While it is easy to recount highlights and celebratory moments that have taken place during the year, I also believe it is necessary to take stock of those projects that did not go as planned. As has been widely reported since May, the Walker received strong criticism from the public about Sam Durant’s Scaffold, one of the new works installed in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden prior to its opening. Durant’s sculpture critiques the ongoing use of capital punishment in the United States. The piece is a composite structure that references seven gallows used in US state-sanctioned executions across history. One of the gallows included, however, is a representation of that used in Mankato, Minnesota, in 1862 for the execution of 38 Dakota men, a still-traumatic moment in history.
In advance of the Garden’s opening, I acknowledged in an open letter that the Walker’s process of placing the sculpture in the Garden was flawed, as we did not seek dialogue with native communities before the work was installed. I also extended my sincere apologies to the Dakota community for not being sufficiently aware of the work’s implications in a Minnesota context and the pain that it would elicit. On May 31, 2017, the artist along with representatives from the Dakota, the Walker, and the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board resolved to remove the work after undergoing a voluntary mediation process. It was ultimately dismantled during a ceremony on June 2, led by Dakota spiritual leaders and elders. The Dakota people now have possession of the wood from the work. Since Scaffold was removed, the Walker has agreed to host forums for listening and learning; reach out to native communities; work to help bridge gaps in understanding among staff, board, and audiences; and examine its institutional structures and policies and work to make structural change.
As I consider the events surrounding Scaffold, I want to extend our appreciation to all those involved in the mediation process. Standing beside the Walker, Durant reconsidered the context in which his work was placed, which led to his decision to dismantle the piece and relinquish the work’s intellectual property to the Dakota. The process of mediation honored the Dakota community’s request to claim this potent symbol of the past. The events over the summer, while painful and challenging, suggest new pathways for conflict resolution for artists, institutions, and communities. It is the essence of learning in public and would not have been possible without the wisdom and grace of the Dakota elders, the artist, and other community members. Moving forward, the Walker recognizes the healing that needs to take place and the trust that needs to be rebuilt, and has begun work as an institution to be a part of this in a meaningful, sustained way.
As we navigated this complex terrain and completed the ambitious campus renovations, it is with tremendous pride that I report that the Walker continued its tradition of managing its financial resources wisely and balanced its budget for the 36th consecutive year. Our endowment market value also remained strong at $201 million, helping undergird the Walker’s internationally renowned programs and support its outstanding staff. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the extraordinarily generous support of many individuals, foundations, corporate partners, and government organizations.
My gratitude also goes 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. Thanks, too, go to our generous Premier Partners: Delta Air Lines and Target. Last, I want to express my deepest appreciation to the dedicated staff and Board of Trustees for their steadfast commitment to advancing the Walker’s mission to act as a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences.
Executive Director, Walker Art Center