The Year in Review: Highlights of Fiscal Year 2018–2019; A Message From Mary Ceruti, Executive Director
When my family and I arrived in Minnesota in January from New York City, we were greeted by a great deal of snow and extremely cold temperatures as well as an exceedingly warm welcome from everyone we encountered. While I have only served as executive director of the Walker Art Center for little more than 10 full months as of this writing, I can tell you that it has been exhilarating to get to know an institution that I have greatly admired for my entire career as well as the Twin Cities community that I have heard so much about over the years. I’m thrilled to now be part of an institution that is both deeply respected around the globe while also serving as a beloved cultural asset in Minnesota.
As I reflect on the Walker’s most recent fiscal year, I’m very pleased to report that the institution organized and presented more than 500 thought-provoking programs. We featured nearly 1,000 artists in 12 exhibitions, 67 performance events, and 177 moving image screenings, all of which attracted more than 882,000 people to the Walker and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Initiatives designed to make the Walker more accessible to the broadest community such as Free First Saturdays, Target Free Thursday Nights, and the Garden, enabled more than 80 percent of visitors to attend free of charge. Several Walker exhibitions and performance commissions also reached audiences nationally and internationally as they toured to Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Columbus, and Brussels. In addition, our website walkerart.org attracted more than 1.6 million unique visits; while mnartists.org, the Walker’s dynamic online community for Minnesota artists, garnered another 459,000 visits.
In the following letter, it is my pleasure to share some of the highlights and major achievements from the Walker’s fiscal year 2018–2019. Of course, none of this work would be possible without the tremendous support provided by the Walker’s more than 6,300 members and donors; some 140 community, civic, and copresenting partners; and 150-plus corporate and foundation partners. I would like to recognize our generous Premier Partners Delta Air Lines and Target, Lead Partner U.S. Bank, and 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. Lastly, I want to express my deep appreciation to the devoted Board of Trustees and stellar staff for everything they do ensure the Walker can present today’s most exciting art and artists; engage, educate, and serve the public through a diverse array of offerings; and create innovative and original programs.
In 2016 the Walker received a major grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to extend its national leadership efforts in interdisciplinary art. The four-year Interdisciplinary Initiative focuses on the intersection of performance, performing arts, and visual arts, and involves an in-depth research initiative; a production initiative; and new models for documentation, archiving, scholarship, publishing, acquisition, and conservation.
The Walker remains grateful to the Mellon Foundation, whose support in 2018–2019 made possible a number of programs, including a three-part series by Beirut-born artist Rabih Mroué. Spanning theater, music, and visual art, Mroué’s work engages with the contemporary politics of the Middle East, often drawing from his experience of the Lebanese Civil War (1975–1990). The January 2019 Out There festival included a final production residency and world premiere of the Walker-commissioned Borborygmus, a darkly comedic work co-created and performed in Arabic with English by Lebanese performing artists Mroué, Lina Majdalanie, and Mazen Kerbaj. Rounding out the retrospective were Mouré’s intriguing lecture-performance Sand in the Eyes and his first solo US gallery presentation, Again we are defeated, which featured new drawings reflecting the artist’s meditations on the atrocities of war through his daily encounters with the news.
An ambitious two-week residency with Meg Stuart, one of Europe’s most influential dance artists, included performances of her Evening of solos and duets and the North American premiere of her Walker co-commissioned installation/performance Celestial Sorrow. A collaboration with renowned Indonesian visual artist Jompet Kuswidananto, Celestial Sorrow was a live performance mounted within his immersive light installation. Exploring themes of possession, ghosts, and grief, Celestial Sorrow transformed the McGuire Theater into an intimate performative installation with audience members on all four sides on the stage facing five virtuosic dancers and musicians from across Europe and Indonesia. Free public talks between Stuart and scholar Thomas F. DeFrantz as well as with Kuswidananto took place within the installation.
Bridging the worlds of experimental sound and sculpture, Resonance: A Sound Art Marathon was a free, 10-hour festival featuring international, national, and Minnesota-based artists, co-curated by the Walker’s Visual Arts and Performing Arts departments. The wide-ranging music featured new electronic work (St. Paul’s Philip Blackburn), solo saxophone (Matana Roberts), audiovisual poetry (Christine Sun Kim), and resonant objects or instruments built and played by the artists (Walter Kitundu, Camille Norment with Craig Taborn, Tarek Atoui). Jules Gimbrone activated their installation of liquid-filled glass vessels, while Atoui’s electronic music was created live in collaboration with Haroon Mirza’s spectacular audiovisual installation. The artists had imagined this project for years but were able to finally realize it here at the Walker. ASL interpretation was provided during the daylong event.
Over the past year, the Interdisciplinary Initiative also supported new scholarly research and writing, including Walker-commissioned essays by independent curator André Lepecki; an Artist Op-Ed publication by Jules Gimbrone; artist interviews with Mroué and Kuswidananto; and multiple essays relating to the Walker’s interdisciplinary history. In addition, the Walker’s Design and publishing teams worked with Jason Moran (whose visual and performance works were mounted in 2017–2018) to publish LOOP—the first installment of Moran’s innovative digital publication on jazz from black artists’ perspectives. The initiative also helped guide several 2018–2019 interdisciplinary acquisitions by choreographer Maria Hassabi and a new video work by Laure Prouvost as well as works by performance pioneers Ron Athey, Joan Jonas, and Carolee Schneemann.
The 12 Walker exhibitions presented in fiscal year 2018–2019 included a major retrospective, midcareer survey exhibitions, a reinstallation of the permanent collection, a major thematic group show, and two solo presentations that were the first US shows for the featured artists. The Walker’s fall season began with the premiere of the retrospective Siah Armajani: Follow This Line, the first comprehensive US presentation devoted to the work of this Minneapolis-based artist, co-organized by the Walker and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The exhibition was accompanied by a major catalogue, published by the Walker, and also received broad and positive press coverage from outlets ranging from the New York Times to Artforum. Also opening in the fall of 2018 was Mario García Torres: Illusion Brought Me Here, the Mexico City–based artist’s first US survey. This exhibition was copresented with WIELS, Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels, and was accompanied by the first catalogue to survey García Torres’s work, copublished by the two institutions. In December, the Walker opened a solo presentation on the work of London-based artist Elizabeth Price, her first exhibition in a US museum. In the early winter, the multipart Platforms: Collection and Commissions presented landmark films from the collection alongside new commissions by a generation of artists inspired by these earlier examples.
In February, our focus on the collection continued with the opening of Five Ways In: Themes from the Collection. The show is organized by five familiar genres: portraiture, the interior scene, landscape, still life, and abstraction, while foregrounding ways that artists continually reinterpret these categories. With more than 100 works—painting, sculpture, drawing, photography, and moving image installations—the exhibition invites visitors to become reacquainted with favorites from the collection as well as to discover the new and unexpected. Opening with this exhibition was Allora & Calzadilla: Chalk, a presentation of a large-scale work from the Walker’s collection by Puerto Rico–based collaborators Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. Opening in March, The Body Electric questioned ways that photographic, televisual, and digital media affect our perceptions of the human body and everyday life. The Walker-organized show featured works by some 50 intergenerational and international artists who explored themes of the real and virtual, the organic and artificial, moving from the physical world to the screen and back again.
During the 2018–2019 season, the Walker’s Performing Arts program presented a nationally recognized spectrum of contemporary dance, theater, performance, and music. The season opened with the legendary Meredith Monk and her newest work Cellular Songs, a stunning large-scale performance contemplation on the fundamental unit of life and its relation to the universe. The Walker’s successful Out There festival once again brought startling, provocative, and vital new forms of theatrical expression across the month of January. The 2019 edition featured the Walker-commissioned Jack & by the theater/performance-maker Kaneza Schaal and collaborators as well as Zvizdal [Chernobyl, so far—so close] by Belgian innovators Berlin. Out There concluded with Argentine writer, director, visual artist, and filmmaker Lola Arias’s real-life theater project involving Argentine and British veterans from both sides of the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War. Reflecting a continued commitment to site-specific producing, the Walker partnered with the University of Minnesota’s Northrop Auditorium to present Quebec’s Le Patin Libre, along with local contemporary ice dance company Brownbody, for performances at ice arenas in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. Dance season programming also introduced the work of New York–based writer, choreographer, and performer Will Rawls in a collaboration with celebrated poet Claudia Rankine. The Walker also hosted its annual Choreographers’ Evening, curated this year by Twin Cities–based interdisciplinary dance/sound artist Pramila Vasudevan.
Music highlights included performances by jazz innovators Henry Threadgill and Wadada Leo Smith, a multinight retrospective event in recognition of guitarist, composer, and experimentalist Thurston Moore, and performances by Ethiopian American keyboard and accordion maestro Hailu Mergia and his trio (copresented by and at the Cedar). In the realm of contemporary classical music, the Walker joined forces with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series to present the early music vocal trio ModernMedieval performing an entire contemporary program. The evening featured new Walker/SPCO-commissioned works by Icelandic electronic music composer Ben Frost, indie rock artist Juliana Barwick, and Puerto Rican alt-classical composer Angélica Negrón. The 2019 Rock the Garden music festival, cosponsored by Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 The Current, featured a rich diversity of genres and critically acclaimed artistry, including Grammy Award–winning art rock headliners the National; rising Australian indie rock star Courtney Barnett; the legendary LA punk band X; Heart Bones, a new duo led by Har Mar Superstar; St. Paul–based rapper deM atlaS; “gothic blues” star Adia Victoria; local pop phenoms Bad Hats; and New Zealand indie-rockers the Beths.
In August 2018, the Walker produced and presented the second year of Sound for Silents. This year’s free event on the Walker hillside paired silent films from the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Moving Image Collection with new Walker-commissioned compositions by local percussionist and keyboard player Martin Dosh and his ensemble Dosh Quintet.
Moving Image programming in 2018–2019 presented events that focused on the history and inventive uses of the medium; screened premieres of international and independent films; and provided creative spaces for filmmakers on multiple platforms, including in the gallery, online, and in the cinema. The Dialogue and Retrospective program featured Luca Guadagnino, the internationally renowned Italian director who made his debut in 1999. With a wide range of influences and inspirations as director and as a frequent international film festival juror, Guadagnino discussed his career and complex psychoanalytical narratives with audiences in the Walker Cinema. The Filmmaker in Conversation series this year featured insightful discussions Paul Anton Smith and Chris Eyre, delving into each artist’s approaches to filmmaking. The series Summer Heat ’68 looked through the eyes of filmmakers who challenged conventions to capture the rebellious spirit of their changing times, reviving the summer of 1968 on its 50th anniversary. INDIgenesis: GEN2 returned to the Walker with Native/Indigenous films that speak to future generations, guest curated by filmmaker Missy Whiteman (Northern Arapaho and Kickapoo Nations). The four-week series showcased area premieres of narrative and documentary features as well as short films by Indigenous filmmakers, discussions and presentations by special guests, and a free youth-focused program. The British Arrows Awards, showcasing the best in UK advertising, remained a hugely popular event with 95 public screenings and attendance reaching 32,000.
Through its long-standing partnership with the local chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA), the Walker’s Design Studio presented the annual Insights Lecture Series highlighting a diverse mix of established and emerging design talents. The spring 2019 series featured Forest Young, Global Head of Design for Wolff Olins; independent illustrator Bráulio Amado; German designer and brand guru Mirko Borsche; and Gail Bichler, design director of the New York Times Magazine. In addition to designing award-winning catalogues, print materials, and graphic identities, the Design Studio also created beautiful short videos for every programming department. Among these are several Art Speaks videos, including an intriguing piece diving into Jason Moran’s exploration of historical jazz stages and a short film about Rabih Mroué’s interdisciplinary practice.
Education and Public Programs
Through almost 200 education and public programs, the Walker invited diverse audiences to experience, analyze, and engage with art, artists, and their practice. Popular programs like Free First Saturday and Target Free Thursday Nights attracted large crowds once again this year for a wide range of activities and performances presented with and by artists and community partners. For example, the summer series Terrace Thursdays, which took place on the Walker’s outdoor terraces on Target Free Thursday Nights, featured a vogueing competition hosted by Fatha Jazz Bordeaux; a pop-up record swap, hosted by local record stores and tied to themes in the retrospective exhibition Allen Ruppersberg: Intellectual Property 1968–2018; and Indigenous Spirit: Gender Fluid Fashion, a fashion show featuring the work of Native designer Delina White from Leech Lake Reservation as well as Two Spirit models from all over the region.
Walker tours were delivered to 17,500 visitors across the museum and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, with 72 percent of tours for K–12 students and 28 percent university students and adult groups. Walker educators led tours in languages other than English, including Spanish and Hmong, in addition to American Sign Language and audio-described tours. The Contemporary Journeys program served visitors with dementia and their caregivers, and monthly Sensory Friendly Sunday events engaged audiences of all ages with sensory processing differences, autism spectrum disorder, or developmental disabilities.
The Walker continued to participate in the Minneapolis Public Schools’ Cultural Experiences Partnership by engaging 6th-grade students in stop-motion animation workshops. New programs were also piloted with Minneapolis Public Schools, offering credit recovery for rising 8th graders and high school seniors. Teen audiences participated in a wide variety of out-of-school arts engagement opportunities, including free gallery admission for more than 7,000 teen visitors and Teen Takeover events that featured bands and DJs, workshops, and artist-led activities organized by the Walker Art Center Teen Arts Council (WACTAC).
The Walker also presented a range of lectures last year, featuring such artists as Siah Armajani, Alexa Horochowski, and JoAnn Verburg and academics such as Christina Schmid. In addition, the Loft Literary Center designed writing workshops in the spring related to the exhibition Five Ways In: Themes from the Collection. Each monthly program featured a different Loft Writing resident who developed a workshop about one of the themes in the exhibition. Writers included Victoria Blanco, Nneka Onwuzurike, and Kathryn Savage.
Strong financial stewardship enables the Walker to take artistic risks and invest in the cultural R&D that is integral to fulfilling its mission. The Walker has always had an outsized international reputation for the quality of its artistic programming and I have been delighted to witness firsthand the commensurate level of excellence with which the staff and board manage the institution’s financial resources. Thanks to the extraordinarily generous support of many individuals, foundations, corporate partners, and government organizations as well as a robust endowment with a market value that reached $225 million by the end of the fiscal year, the Walker operated in the black once again, balancing its budget for a 38th consecutive year.
Another way that the Walker delivered a terrific financial performance during the year was the highly successful Avant Garden event. This year’s annual benefit celebrated artist Siah Armajani with the opening of his major retrospective Siah Armajani: Follow This Line. Festivities included gourmet fare and craft cocktails, a premier art auction, and live performance by Har Mar Superstar as well as a dance party featuring DJs Nora En Pure and Biz Markie. Thanks to the generosity of our Avant Garden co-chairs Jim Pohlad and Denise Mallery, committee members, sponsors, and all who attended, this singular event welcomed a record number of guests and made a net profit of more than $1 million to support the Walker’s world-renowned artistic and educational programming.
After a great deal of listening and reflecting since my arrival in January, I’ve asked Walker board and staff to embrace the following approaches as we work together to create a new strategic plan in the coming year:
- We follow and champion artists whose vision and experimentation inspire us to see the world from new perspectives and imagine change.
- We promote and model curiosity, creativity, and enjoyment through visitor experiences, our interactions with each other, and with artists and colleagues.
- We operate with appropriate transparency in our governance, our management, and our external communications.
- We are brave in our engagement with the critical questions and issues of our time.
I believe that trustees and staff members, in partnership with artists, nonprofit partners, and community members, can help the Walker to continue to improve and evolve as a model 21st-century arts center that fulfills its unique and compelling mission to act as catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences. I look forward to sharing the progress we are making toward these aspirations in the future as they become more concrete, and I welcome your feedback as we move forward!
Mary Ceruti, Executive Director, Walker Art Center