Charles Venable, PhD is the new Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO of the Indianapolis Museum of Art I had a brief chat with him (November 2012) at the media opening of “Beauty and Belief: Crossing Bridges with the Arts of Islamic Culture.” We spoke about the exhibition, his hopes for the museum and why he plans to make community outreach one of his top priorities.

MICHAEL: Hey Charles, Is this the first exhibition on your watch as IMA Director?

CHARLES: It is the first on my watch and I am very honored.  It’s an exhibition of over 250 objects going from the 7th Century up to Contemporary Art.  And it has every media you can imagine: textiles, metal work, etc, etc.  But the most important thing is it may be the best show I’ve ever seen that really analyzes a culture through its art and in this case, in terms of Islamic culture.  It really addresses the extraordinary, omnipresent, pervasive connection between belief and art.

MICHAEL: You’re here from the Speed Art Museum (Louisville, Kentucky).  That’s where you came from?


MICHAEL: Tell me. What are you thinking about Indianapolis thus far?

CHARLES: Oh, I love Indianapolis!  Being close, just a little south of here you know, a little less than two hours, depending on how fast you drive, it has been great because we’ve gotten to know, my partner and I, have gotten to know Indianapolis fairly well in the last two or three years and so the IMA certainly wasn’t foreign to us even before living in Louisville. But being able to eat in restaurants here and sort of getting to know neighborhoods and to really spend much more time in this museum, it was very familiar when we arrived and we like living in the Midwest so this is very much home.

MICHAEL: What are your goals for the museum during your time here?  What would you personally like to see happen?

CHARLES: Well, having been here only - this is only my fourth week - so I haven’t set too many goals so far.  However, I’m still learning everybody’s name and getting to know things, but certainly continuing with the great exhibition schedule, but maybe even pumping that up a little bit so that every year or two we have a show that people who don’t think about art every single day would actually say, “Wow, that’s amazing.  I’ve got to get down to the IMA!” And be able to draw people from Chicago and Dayton and Cincinnati and Louisville into Indianapolis would be great.  Also, you know, I’m really interested in community outreach and community involvement and how if you can’t get to the IMA, how can we take the IMA to you?  You know, there are certain parts of town and individuals who probably aren’t going to come here, but how can we make sure that their life as much as possible has art in it as well.   

MICHAEL: But Indianapolis is not really an art town.  It’s a really a sports town.


MICHAEL: Do you feel a challenge there?

CHARLES: You think sports are an art?  Haha.

MICHAEL: Haha. Do you feel a challenge there?

CHARLES: Oh, I don’t really feel a challenge there to be honest.  Most American towns aren’t “art towns.” I mean, New York is an aberration, if you will.  It’s very unlike most of the rest of the country and to be honest, most museums in this country are more like the IMA than they are like the Metropolitan or MOMA or something like that so really I think if the IMA can continue to grow and be extremely successful and engage people – we’re the ones who are making models that other institutions across the country, 99% of the rest of museums can actually learn from, so I want us to continue to be a museum leader.

MICHAEL: Great. Thanks Charles.

For more information about the Indianapolis Musem of Art, check out