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IMOCA settles in at Murphy Arts, calls off move

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The Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art, which faltered in the summer of 2009, is on stable footing at its year-old location in Fountain Square.

Since moving from Senate Avenue to the Murphy Arts Center late last year, IMOCA’s free exhibition openings have drawn crowds of 500 to 3,700, board President Brandon Judkins said. And that is attracting attention from philanthropists who might support additional programs and staff.

“I don’t think anyone involved in IMOCA had any idea how big a success being in the Murphy would be,” Judkins said.

At the Murphy, Judkins said the museum benefits from having artists’ studios, Big Car Gallery and a bar and restaurant as neighbors. That’s one reason Judkins said IMOCA has decided not to serve as the anchor for a proposed mixed-use building in Fletcher Place, closer to downtown.

“It would take something pretty significant for us to want to give up those synergies,” he said.

IMOCA’s current landlord is Craig Von Deylen, the architect and developer who recently unveiled designs for a $7.5 million mixed-use project on Virginia Avenue called Fletcher Arts. Von Deylen initially planned for the museum to serve as a cultural anchor. He’s now seeking another arts group as a tenant.

IMOCA’s future came into question in 2009, as the recession dried up donations and grant sources for not-for-profits everywhere. Then-Executive Director Kathy Nagler departed for a job at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and IMOCA laid off its one full-time curator, Christopher West.

Co-founder Jeremy Efroymson, who had stepped away from the organization, returned to work as executive director—free of charge.

Efroymson is a philanthropist and adviser to the $100 million-plus Efroymson Family Fund, a donor-advised fund at the Central Indiana Community Foundation that has provided crucial support to IMOCA in the past.

At the museum, Efroymson instituted a new system of using guest curators and expanded the number of exhibits from four to six a year.

IMOCA is operating on a budget of about $150,000, and could do so for the foreseeable future, Judkins said. At the same time, he said he’s had some “very promising” discussions with donors that could lead to new programs or paid staff.

Since the move, he said, “We have a much more interesting value proposition.”

Most exhibition openings, which coincide with First Friday gallery tours, have drawn 800 to 1,500 visitors, Judkins said. The low-end exception was one last February that coincided with a snowstorm yet still attracted several hundred people.

The record-setter was the August opening of “Postsecret: Confessions on Life, Death and God,” which drew about 3,700. PostSecret is a community art project, in which people mail post cards bearing their secrets to artist Frank Warren, who displays them each Sunday on the eponymous website.

IMOCA, which launched in 2004, formerly occupied a 1,000-square-foot space on Senate Avenue donated by the Katz & Korin law firm. The museum is paying $12 per square foot for its 2,000-square-foot space at the Murphy, but Judkins said the rent is offset by donations from Von Deylen.

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