A Look into the Future

What we call the Visioning Project is a 3-year project funded by former Board member Kay Koch, that will allow us to reimagine all our permanent collection galleries. At the end of the project, we will have draft proposals for new artwork checklists, floorplans, and interpretation plans for every floor of the IMA Galleries. These drafts will then become important to our fundraising efforts as we work to make our plans into a reality and reinstall the galleries.  

This is a unique opportunity (genuinely unique—I have not heard of any other museum with funding to do this sort of research and planning!) to take the time and consider the museum as a whole. In a way, we’re asking ourselves: if we could start fresh, what would our galleries look like? When we first started this project, we asked ourselves these questions; How would guests experience them? What could they do and see in these spaces? How could we make these spaces truly welcoming to all our neighbors and the communities we serve? What kinds of stories could we tell?  

In asking ourselves these questions, we want to think about goals for the project. After much discussion, we know that we want our galleries to be relevant, inclusive, diverse, fluid, interconnected, and experimental—basically, we want the galleries to feel alive with all the diversity of the human experience.  

We began the Visioning Project in earnest in spring 2020…right before the COVID-19 pandemic spread to the United States. While we once imagined we would spend 2020 traveling to other museums and meeting with their staffs to talk about their own reinstallations and approaches to collections galleries, we instead found ourselves researching from afar. Reading The Art of Relevance by Nina Simon, consulting with a variety of external experts working in the field today and examining our institutional values and how our collections galleries can embody them.  

One expression of that research and brainstorming that you can see in the IMA Galleries right now is the current installation of Thornton Dial’s Don’t Matter How Raggly the Flag, It Still Got to Tie Us Together in the Damon C. and Kay D. Davis Lab. This exhibition debuted in July 2020 with the reopening of our museum building after it was closed for the pandemic. In this installation, we present Dial’s powerful artwork along with a simple prompt: “The American flag means different things to different people. How does this artwork make you feel?” Guests are invited to respond to this prompt on cards that are posted in the gallery by our staff. We display nearly all cards submitted and replace old responses with new ones as they come in. To date, we have received almost 6,500 handwritten responses, many quite personal and thoughtful, often featuring drawings.  

So. That is what we have done so far. Here is what you will be seeing from the Visioning Project next. This year, part of our European galleries will reopen with a brand-new view. What was previously a portion of our European galleries will become an enfilade (a beautiful word architects use that sounds better than “doorways all in a row”) with a view running from Pulliam Great Hall near the LOVE sculpture all the way back to the exterior wall at the at the entrance to the Clowes Pavilion. The artworks in the space will be what we call a global thematic installation, comprised of works across curatorial departments, from around the world and across time, focused on an overarching question:  

Why do people represent human bodies in art? The installation will suggest some reasons, but will not prescribe a definitive answer, inviting guests to consider the question themselves.  

Although not directly a part of the Visioning Project, the reopening of the Clowes Pavilion in 2022 will be a sort of sneak peek of what you might expect to see as we reinstall galleries throughout the museum. In the Clowes Pavilion, we will debut new approaches to curating, displaying, and interpreting the iconic collection housed there, drawing connections between works throughout history in the IMA’s collection, as well as exploring ways to connect art and nature. When you visit the reopened Pavilion, you will notice new things we are trying out—we will be collecting as much feedback as we can about whether and how these new approaches succeed so that we can apply lessons learned to the gallery reinstallations we develop as part of the Visioning Project.  

In addition to the changes, you will see in the galleries, behind-the-scenes, we are also considering the process driving the Visioning Project. As Newfields’ Action Plan unfolds, we hope to work with the new Community Advisory Committee to help develop our plan. We don’t know yet what that will look like, but we are excited to work with Dr. Sean L. Huddleston and the rest of the committee.  

So, in one sentence, what is the Visioning Project? It’s an incredible opportunity to reimagine how guests experience our permanent collection and the IMA Galleries. (And on a personal level, I have to say I’m excited to see my colleagues shine—I work with some of the most talented, thoughtful people, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with!)