Museum reopens with changes: Community support needed as funding ends

July 9, 2007

Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art reopens July 13 with a new look and a new plan for growth.

The changes come as its primary funder is scaling back support-and backing a competing contemporary art museum planned for Carmel.

That does not deter Executive Director Kathy Nagler from her efforts to develop IMOCA. Nagler, 51, was hired last summer to replace local arts enthusiast Jeremy Efroymson, whose family foundation also was its main funder.

The Indianapolis-based Efroymson Fund helped get the museum started in 2001 when a group of Indianapolis residents thought the city needed an outlet for cutting-edge art, said Efroymson, 38.

"In order to have creative people in this community, we have to have a wide variety of ways for them to engage in the community," he said. "There's a lot to explore in art."

Efroymson stepped aside last year to give IMOCA a chance to go in its own direction. Nagler arrived with an ambitious agenda: Transform the gallery to meet museum standards and diversify the museum's grant-heavy revenue stream. The Efroymson Fund provided 62 percent of its $280,333 revenue last year, according to federal tax filings.

Existing grants will expire in mid-2008, though. Plans call for boosting revenue by increasing memberships and securing more grants. Already this year, IMOCA has more than $150,000 in grants. Nagler hopes to increase membership from about 150 to 500 by year-end.

She also tripled the number of board members to 15.

The museum was closed for three months while walls were built to block the light coming through its two storefront windows. Nagler still wants to replace the building's fluorescent lighting and add offices in the 1,100-square-foot gallery.

Still, she's not looking to expand. In January, she spoke with Carmel officials about opening a gallery there, but decided against it. She did not want to think about adding a second location until she's certain IMOCA can sustain itself.

To cut costs, Nagler plans to eliminate two of the six exhibits the museum stages each year.

Having fewer shows might complicate the membership drive, said local fundraising consultant Mike Laudick, unless the museum explains its financial situation upfront.

"If you educate [members] on why you're doing something ... people are more receptive," said Laudick, 47, of Laudick/Brown & Associates. "No one likes surprises."

If Nagler's plan succeeds, she'd like to work toward a million-dollar budget within two years.

That's an ambitious goal, said Bryan Orander, 50, president of Indianapolisbased Charitable Advisors LLC-to achieve it, art patrons would have to help the museum in a substantial way.

"The positive thing is that a couple [of] foundation grants and a handful of generous donors can make a big dent in their revenue," he said. "If they can sustain themselves for two or three years, they might be able to ... make it work."

Still, that could be an even bigger challenge with Carmel's Midwest Museum of Contemporary Art opening in September. Having two similar museums could be a distraction, Orander said.

Nagler, however, said IMOCA's increased attendance and new grants are evidence that it's on the right track-and MiCo cannot change that.

Efroymson agreed, comparing the situation to having more than one grocery store or gas station in an area. Customers don't complain if there are more than one of those, he said.

Still, he acknowledged that neither museum can make it long term without community support.

"Individual people can start ventures, but after a while, the community has to come in," he said. "It'd be nice if some of the larger funders in the city would start to support smaller ventures and take some chances. ... They may or may not succeed, but if you want Indy to be an entrepreneurial city, then support those entrepreneurial ventures."
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