Walker Art Center
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Musings on Globalism and Institutional Change


useful, and all of the curators took notice and began to inculcate sensitivities and knowledge, if not exquisitely detailed expertise, into their daily practice. As that project, and others, evolved, the thinking that was put on the table and the arguments we had and the questions we posed to one another became part of our daily practice. That questioning--the process of testing our daily assumptions--spilled into every other area. And, I confess, it can be exhausting.

But to get back to your question, no, I didn't have a precise tableau in my mind of what this institution would look like in ten years. Sometimes, I think that's a weakness because I really am profoundly interested in the discussion and I can't imagine where the process is going to take me until I'm at least partly on the way.

VND: The reason I asked is because if you had asked me the same question in 1991-1992, I could not have imagined the answer either. One thing I was clear about from the start was not wanting, ten years later, for the effort to be seen as "Vishakha's project." I wanted this to be the Asia Society's mandate. That's all I could imagine, just that much, in whatever way I could get there. It was not just about me. Even as late as 1996, I might not have been able to tell you that we were there yet. Today, I can.

KH: My experience has been similar, at least partially, in that I realized early on that my approach in trying to frame these larger questions was aimed at eventually shaping an institutional mission. That's really what we're talking about: institutional missions, institutional commitments. Maybe the three adjectives that appeared in our mission statement when we first rewrote it about a year after I came here are useful in the sense that they pointed the way: multidisciplinary, diverse, and international.

Even though we collectively, as staff and board, arrived at those three words by kind of intellectually duking it out, the struggle was fairly contained within theoretical arguments. I've come to realize that theory can be very scary to people because they miss the pleasure of seeing what the change looks like and feels like. Theoretical discussions of why we should become a more diverse institution or why, in fact, we needed to shift from using the word international to using the term global--a word we're now equally struggling with--always felt to some as a construct that embodied loss rather than opening up a bigger picture of the world. Once they began to see the rewards of the actions--the new audiences, artists, colleagues, conversations--they began to rest easier. It became exhilarating, full of openings rather than closure. But both trustees and staff need to be willing, and curious enough, to accept some diminution of their own authority.

VND: I want to come back to the multidisciplinary part of your mission. When you first started talking about the multidisciplinary imperative, was it out of a sense that all of these diverse creative endeavors needed to be represented, or was it that you wanted them to interconnect in ways that they hadn't before? Increasingly I'm much more interested in finding ways of connecting these worlds. It's not enough that all of them exist, but how do they coexist? What is the greater goal? Why should an institution have all the disciplines? And I'm taking about not only creative disciplines, but also policy-making, administrative, and educational responsibilities. Are there ways to articulate something that actually is much bigger than any one of these parts and to truly interconnect them?

KH: I've always watched artists very closely, maybe because I know how difficult it is, at least how difficult it was for me, to think and act as an artist, a practice that I found extremely lonely and gave up many, many years ago. But I never gave up the extraordinary revelations I found working with artists and being in artists' studios. Part of why I wanted to recalibrate the balance among multiple disciplines, which have been housed at the Walker for decades, had to do with watching how artists themselves were working. Artists increasingly became less interested in defining themselves as visual artists, moving-picture artists, or performing artists. They were interested in areas of convergence, which seems to me another way of looking at notions of hybrid-ity. Even though I wanted to provide a fertile laboratory setting for artists, I was equally interested in creating opportunities for audiences, which still, by and large, define their interests by discipline. I wanted to encourage them to move out of those disciplinary silos toward a larger set of ideas about what the work means, where it comes from, how it is framed, and how the disciplinary boundaries are shifting in the twenty-first century. So it had to do with my commitment to both artists and audiences.