As a global institution deeply rooted in its local community and context, we look back on the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012, and proudly acknowledge our successes—from a new website that reaches more people around the world to an array of traveling performances and exhibitions that originated right here to another vibrant season of Open Field, our homegrown experiment in civic engagement and the cultural commons. The following successes would simply not have been possible without the partnership and trust of artists, the participation of our adventuresome audiences, and the generosity of our numerous contributors and members.
Last year, more than 610,000 people visited the Walker and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden to experience the work of more than 1,600 artists across the disciplines. In addition to our 163 partnerships with local community organizations, we reached an additional 100,000-plus visitors with our touring exhibitions and performing arts events in cities around the world–demonstrating our commitment to serving artistic communities, whether down the street or around the globe. The excellence, innovation, and vitality of our extensive programming are critical to affirming the Walker’s position as one of the top five most-visited modern and contemporary art museums nationally, and among the top 10 most popular tourist attractions in Minnesota.
Our successes extend to our green spaces, our neighborhood, and the world, but they start right here inside our building, with our gallery presentations, film screenings, performances, and educational opportunities. Our exhibitions challenged and delighted audiences with a range of popular offerings, from Lifelike, a show sponsored by The Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank that explored uncannily realistic artworks—from a folding table and chair the size of a room to a tiny honey bee crafted from clay, wire, fuzz, hair, plastic, and paint—to Graphic Design: Now in Production, a touring exhibition programmed collaboratively with the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Other Walker-organized shows traversed the local and global, ranging from a solo exhibition by Minneapolis-based artist Frank Gaard to the first US museum show by Seoul-based Minouk Lim as well as new projects by Mexico City’s Pedro Reyes and Swedish born, Berlin-based Nathalie Djurberg and Hans Berg.
Open Field marked its third season with the publication of a book, Conversations on the Commons. Simultaneously released in print and online, the Walker Postscript volume featured interviews and essays on participation, utopia, and public space from staff and guest writers including Lewis Hyde, Rick Prelinger, and Stephen Duncombe. Outside, Open Field hosted an array of free public events, generously supported by Margaret and Angus Wurtele and sponsored by Optum, including residencies by performing artist Marc Bamuthi Joseph, who met with communities of color across Minneapolis and St. Paul as he developed red, black & GREEN: a blues, a work about social responsibility and environmental justice; Carl and Betsy DiSalvo, whose Kitchen Lab explored food activism; Minneapolis design team ROLU, which led visitors in the re-creation of pieces from the Walker’s collection. Open Field advanced to a sensational close with the world’s first Internet Cat Video Festival in August 2012, which drew an audience of nearly 10,000 and international attention from media outlets ranging from Newsweek to the Bangkok Post.
In May, the Walker and other local museums played host to the American Association of Museums conference, the national meeting of some 5,000 professionals from around the globe. In addition to six Walker staffers giving presentations and the Walker holding several receptions and parties, the event served as the launch for Minnesota Museums Month, a celebration of the state’s 600 museums, which the New York Times heralded as the nation’s first.
The Walker’s dedication to interdisciplinary programming continued, but it was especially visible in our work around Merce Cunningham. In October and November 2011, we hosted a 10-day celebration that included talks, workshops, exhibitions, and a final performance by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC), which disbanded at the end of that year. A work by Jérôme Bel featured former Cunningham principal dancer Cédric Andrieux, while two shows drawn from our MCDC collection examined the legendary choreographer’s collaborations with artists Robert Rauschenberg and Ernesto Neto. To further animate these galleries, we hosted Sound Horizon performances, with musicians including Julianna Barwick and Elliott Sharp playing in the gallery beneath Ernesto Neto’s otherworldly installation otheranimal, which he created as décor for a Cunningham dance.
Our performing arts programs brought an array of global and experimental work, from Young Jean Lee’s Untitled Feminist Show for our annual Out There series to Marc Bamuthi Joseph’s collaboration with visual artist Theaster Gates, red, black & GREEN: a blues. These shows were among 10 Walker commissions, which also included the DIY musical FUTURITY, by Brooklyn-based band the Lisps. An additional highlight of the summer was another sold-out Rock the Garden concert, which drew some 11,000 fans for a nearly all-local lineup that ranged from Twin Cities supergroup Doomtree to Duluth’s Trampled by Turtles to headliners the Hold Steady.
The Walker Cinema saw a complete renovation this year, creating a state-of-the-art facility for film lovers. The space was transformed into a bold red room with much-needed new seating and vastly improved acoustics featuring a Meyer EXP sound system. The Cinema is now capable of screening the latest digital releases, including Dolby 3-D and 4K DCP digital, and Kinoton dual projectors for 16- and 35-millimeter film. The overall project, which allows the Walker to digitize and present selected films in its Ruben/Bentson Film and Video Study Collection, was funded by a generous $1 million grant from the Bentson Foundation. Screenings for the Cinema’s reopening showcased its new technology and included Wim Wenders’ 3-D dance documentary Pina and Benh Zeitlin’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, which screened at the Walker shortly after taking home a Camera d’Or at Cannes and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. These films were among 20 regional premieres presented by the Walker this year.
Just across the street, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden welcomed nearly 350,000 visitors, maintaining its status as one of Minnesota’s top tourist attractions. Notable among the hundreds of events we had last year was the first fund-raising benefit in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. A Fantastical Fête took place in September 2011 and was co-chaired by Walker Trustees Joan Nolan and Brian Pietsch. Inspired by Alice in Wonderland and embellished with a dose of steampunk, the benefit invited guests to dance in the Garden as part of a lavish soirée presented by Target, with entertainment by DJ Ammo from the Black Eyed Peas. This successful event raised more than $1.4 million for the Walker, including $246,000 to support operations and programs and another $1,176,000 for a Sculpture Commission Fund, which has been created in order to add two incredible new works of art to the campus. We gained the first new sculptural attraction in April when four 400-million-year-old boulders clad with shining colored steel were installed on the grassy hillside. Created by artist Jim Hodges, in advance of his 2014 retrospective organized by the Walker and the Dallas Museum of Art, Untitled (2011) is a stunning new landmark for our city.
Our endeavors extended beyond our campus to the community at large. The Walker took a partnership role in a new initiative to reenvision and refresh downtown Minneapolis’ Hennepin Avenue as a lively and compelling pedestrian-focused cultural corridor. As one of more than 50 arts, culture, and education organizations on the avenue’s two-mile downtown segment, and as a longstanding voice in planning and design issues in the Twin Cities, we partnered with the Hennepin Theatre Trust and Artspace to bring artists’ voices into the process, which sparked different conversations and expanded possibilities. As part of those activities, artist and designer Candy Chang was among our featured speakers. Many of her projects combine street art with urban planning and social activism, sparking discussion among strangers in public places and providing people with inviting and innovative ways to have a voice—a goal of the overall Plan-It Hennepin project.
Finally, the year also saw the redesign of the Walker website, which drew an unprecedented 2.1 million visits in fiscal year 2011/2012, with more visitors coming from Minnesota and from locations around the world. Nearly 2 million more users visited our other sites, mnartists.org and artsconnected.org. With more than 4 million total visitors, our online destinations reflect our global reach. Launched in December 2011, the new website is an “idea hub,” which looks and functions like a news site, providing original content about the Walker and contemporary art as well as aggregated news, videos, tweets, and more. It was praised as “the website that every art museum will have to consider from this point forward” (Modern Art Notes), “a model for other institutions of all kinds” (The Atlantic), and an “earth-shaking game changer” (Artlog). It took home two prizes at Museums and the Web (Most Innovative, Best Overall) and was nominated for a 16th Annual Webby Award. The site complements the successes of the Walker’s print publishing, which created three new catalogues and received a number of prestigious awards, and our expanding social media endeavors, which saw Twitter followers jump nearly 100,000 to 330,000, Facebook fans increase to 59,000, and continued experimentation on other platforms such as Flickr, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Instagram.
Even in the wake of challenging economic times, the Walker’s mission remains as strong and dynamic as ever. I’m pleased to report that the Walker displayed its characteristic financial stewardship and finished the fiscal year with a balanced budget for the 31st consecutive year. We are extremely grateful for the generous support of so many close friends—members, foundations, government organizations, trustees, and corporate partners—which makes it possible for the Walker to maintain a strong financial position while presenting today’s most exciting art and artists. It also allows us to engage, educate, and serve the public through a diverse array of offerings; and affords us important opportunities to rethink our own practices and create innovative and original programs. I want to offer special thanks to our Premier Partners–Delta Air Lines, General Mills, Star Tribune, and Target–and to the Minnesota State Arts Board through an appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature from the State’s general fund and its arts and cultural heritage fund with money from the vote of the people of Minnesota on November 4, 2008.
I would like to extend my sincere thanks and gratitude to the Board of Trustees under the leadership of Andrew Duff and our gifted and passionate staff for their collective efforts in realizing the Walker’s mission through its extraordinary programming and initiatives. Because of the support and patronage of visitors, members, and contributors, the Walker remains a leading center and vital civic resource for contemporary art and culture.