In September 2011 a group of Walker staffers convened under the umbrella of the Interdisciplinary Work Group (IWG). Largely drawn from the institution’s various programming departments, the group was charged with examining on both a pragmatic and more theoretical level how the Walker approaches and thinks about the interdisciplinary in its work. The IWG emerged out of a desire first expressed in a 2009 Bush Foundation grant application titled Expanding The Rules of Engagement with Artists & Audiences to “develop new internal systems, planning mechanisms, and infrastructure to foster greater institutional integration, cross-departmental collaboration, and interdisciplinary experimentation in programs and collections that can be sustained in the future…”
The group set about asking some very basic questions: As a multidisciplinary arts organization that has expanded in size considerably over the last decades, how are we prepared to respond to the ever more interdisciplinary ways in which artists are working? Given that the institution has Design, Education & Community Programs, Film/ Video, New Media, Performing Arts, and Visual Arts departments – all of which actively create programs — are we not innately interdisciplinary? Or, must we be engaged in cross-departmental projects to really achieve that goal? Are such projects de facto interdisciplinary? Or can they simply mean that one department is acting as a logistical consultant for another which is working in a format they don’t conventionally use? Each discipline has a different relationship to time, space, and language. When is this a good thing? Where can the tensions between different ways of working and looking at the world be turned into productive means of exploration? And just what is it about that term, “interdisciplinary” that is so desirable in the first place? Is it the idea of each participant entering something where they can’t predict the outcome? And if so, how can a large institution with multiple competing needs – from work flow to scheduling and budgeting constraints – remain open to such a philosophy of practice?
Rather than jump to conclusions, the group agreed to engage in a period of research and invite a variety of people to visit the Walker and talk about their work. The desire is to step outside the day-to-day institutional needs of the Walker and get a sense of how different people in different fields are working on and thinking through some of the same broad questions. The visits started in the Spring of 2012, and will end by January 2013, at which time the group will begin to craft its thinking around interdisciplinary questions, and will work to deliver a report that outlines some of its findings and ultimately also attempts to deliver some practical tools to guide interdisciplinary projects into the future.
Each event takes on a different structure depending on the member of the group who is organizing it and their conversations with the participants. Some are intimate seminars, for example the visit by choreographer Deborah Hay that occurred in May 2012. Others involve the participation of a larger group, as with the visit of design futurist Julian Bleecker, which included the Design and New Media departments. Writer Susannah Schouweiler has been invited to attend each event and deliver an account from her own perspective, as a way to informally document the proceedings and to create a record that the IWG can use into the future. Over the coming weeks and months, Susannah’s texts will be posted on the Walker blogs, introduced by the event organizer. As an accumulation of different perspectives, we hope these posts serve to sample the range of the IWG’s research, and that they prove useful material for others who are engaged in similar questions.