For any exhibit or program to be successful, you have to first identify your audience, make people aware of what you’re doing and entice them to attend. In my way of thinking, one of the best ways of making this happen is through partnering with like-minded individuals and organizations in the community.
I’m currently working on a retrospective exhibit for the 431 Gallery at the Indiana State Museum for June of this year. The 431 was a cooperative gallery that was open from 1984 to 1993 on Massachusetts Avenue in downtown Indianapolis. It was created by former Herron School of Art and Design graduates to display cutting-edge contemporary art, an alternative to the local commercial galleries.
The retrospective exhibit will coincide with one for Ed Sanders at Herron. It’s also scheduled to open in June. Sanders was a founding and longtime member of the 431, so collaborating with Herron Gallery Director, Paula Katz, to link the two exhibitions is an ideal fit. Through shared advertising and cross-promotion, this partnership helps the ISM reach a younger and more diverse audience that might not otherwise think of the State Museum as a fine arts venue. Conversely, in Herron, museum visitors will gain awareness of one of the finest art schools in the country -- located within walking distance of the Museum. Aside from the exhibits, the collaboration will include public programs that address not only the 431 Gallery and Sanders, but also the local and regional art scene for the past 30 years.
With an interest in further expanding the audience, I contacted Jim Walker of Big Car, founder of the Indianapolis-based nonprofit arts organization comprised of writers, visual artists, musicians and average folk who work together on cultural projects and programs around the city. Big Car has built a solid reputation for thinking outside the box and engaging diverse audiences in nontraditional settings and activities. TEDx at Hilbert Theatre was one of its recent projects, so was one of the 5X5: Indianapolis Arts and Innovation Events –- a project-pitching series hosted by four local organizations.
Walker, whose work I’ve admired for years, is no stranger to collaborative opportunities and was very interested in the 431/Ed Sanders project. The more we talked, the more prospects we identified that would enhance the overall quality of the exhibitions and be mutually beneficial to our respective organizations. With a generous grant from the Efroymson Family Fund and the Central Indiana Community Foundation, we’ll have the resources to create, implement and promote a wide range of activities that will attract new audiences to both Herron and the State Museum and serve Big Car’s constituency.
Other organizations that have expressed an interest in the project include: Indiana Landmarks, LISC (Local Initiative Support Corporation), Buckingham Foundation and Riley Area Development Corporation. Each one identified value in the project and opportunities to promote their organization’s mission while engaging audiences in a unique and creative manner. In the coming months, as the word spreads, I’m confident the list of partners will grow.
There’s always the option of going it alone and staging an event like this without seeking outside support. But if the goal is to present the best possible exhibit, reach the widest audience possible and build relationships that will pay dividends for years to come, then I think the course of action is pretty clear. All it takes is a willingness to invest a bit of time talking with and listening to people who find value in sharing their talents and resources to work toward a common good.