The future is now at Newfields.

Technology will no longer merely be used to augment the visitor experience. It won’t be an add on. It won’t be extra.

Technology will be the attraction, every bit as much as sculpture, ceramics, or paintings.

Moving forward, technology will now feature in the institution’s programming every bit as much as its Robert Indiana “LOVE” sculpture, the first and largest of its kind he ever created. Every bit as much as its esteemed collection of Japanese Edo Period artwork. Every bit as much as its Van Gogh at the height of his powers oil painting.

And Van Gogh, who died over 130 years ago, allows Newfields to make the leap when THE LUME Indianapolis debuts in June 2021.

The experience will be the largest exhibition in Newfields’ 137-year history, featuring nearly 150 digital projectors transforming Van Gogh’s two-dimensional paintings into a three-dimensional world for guests to explore, displayed floor to ceiling, across the museum’s entire fourth floor– nearly 30,000-square-feet.

THE LUME’s grand opening in Indianapolis will be the first time guests will be able to experience a digital gallery of this scale and sophistication at an art museum in the United States.

“I am very pleased that we have been able to partner with Grande Experiences to become the first museum in the country to fully embrace the future of digital exhibitions,” Dr. Charles L. Venable, The Melvin & Bren Simon Director and CEO at Newfields, said when announcing the exhibition today. “My experience on other continents demonstrated how the combination of cutting-edge digital projection technology and great works of art can motivate new audiences to engage with art exhibitions.”

Venable stressed in an interview with Forbes.com that the digital direction he’s taking Newfields comes as the result of a tremendous amount of research.

“How do you crack the code on the fact that over 76% of Americans never go to an art museum,” Venable told Forbes.com. “We have to figure out how to get out of that box, we need to have broader audiences, more diverse people.”

Venables and staff spent five years spanning the globe digging into art consumer motivation and innovative digital exhibitions. Many of their actions were informed by “Culture Track,” a national online survey conducted every three years regarding cultural consumers’ attitudes, motivators and barriers to participation.

The results were stunning.

According to “Culture Track ’17,” the “definition of culture has democratized, possibly to the point of extinction.”

Community festivals and fairs, drinking and dining, street art and public art, movies and TV are now all considered “cultural activities” by the public, or, as “Culture Track ‘17” stated, “Now, culture can be anything from Caravaggio to Coachella.”

Visual arts memberships and performing arts subscriptions are down from 2011 to 2017. Survey respondents were twice as like to be loyal to restaurants and bars as they are cultural organizations. Their single greatest motivator toward participating in a cultural activity was, “having fun,” at 81%, followed by “interest in content,” (78%) and “experiencing new things” (76%).

The greatest barrier to cultural participation among those polled, “it’s not for someone like me.”

Newfields aspires to be for everyone and Venable’s directorship of the institution has been defined by unconventional–and controversial–efforts to do so. Primary among them were rebranding the Indianapolis Museum of Art as Newfields: A Place for Nature and the Arts in 2017.

Emphasis came off “art” and onto the property’s historic home and wooded grounds.

Bear in mind, Newfields has one of America’s elite collections of art. It’s deep, it’s wide, it’s world-class in a variety of areas boasting a handful of crown jewel pieces that could take place of pride in any art museum in the world including Van Gogh’s Landscape at Saint-Rémy (1889) which will be on view during THE LUME.

Further rankling traditionalists, Newfields undertook an aggressive calendar ofseasonal outdoor festivals, further de-emphasizing traditional art exhibits. These large, boisterous, parking-lot-busting, revenue generating festivals with live music, food vendors and beer gardens attract and audience that care little about Van Gogh, Edo Period screens or Robert Indiana.

“This is vital, museums like ours, if we do not get out there in relevant ways (the general, non-art museum going public) will respond to, we will continue to see flat attendance which has been the case for the past 30 years,” Venables said. “Our audience is also aging, that is not a good trajectory; I want us to grow our audience to have a wide spectrum of people welcomed, there’s also an economic aspect.”

Venables says a traditional 50 picture Van Gogh exhibition would cost Newfields millions to stage between acquiring the loans, transport and insurance. Money it would never make back. Additionally, many of the artist’s best-known paintings, The Starry Night and Sunflowers, wouldn’t be included anyway as they rarely, if ever, leave their home institutions.

THE LUME, short for luminarium, will display close to 3,000 moving images of the artworks set to a classical music score featuring the artist’s most famous paintings including The Starry Night and Sunflowers, paintings which would cost a fortune and years of traveling the world to see in person.

THE LUME Indianapolis, and the buildout of Newfields fourth floor to accommodate this and future digital exhibitions, is made possible through funding from the local Lilly Endowment Inc. That’s important to note. This will not be a one-time thing. Venables is committing to this direction.

As with his other decisions, he expects a degree of backlash.

“(The) U.S. has been pretty resistant to this marriage of art and technology when compared to Europe,” Venables said, still, he’s confident the audience he’s targeting, “not PhD art scholars, people who want to take their family, have a nice time and get away from their depression with Covid and everything else that’s going on,” will respond favorably.

To make sure, this “must see cultural attraction,” as Newfields describes it–notice the word not included in that moniker (art)–will be heavy on opportunities for social media engagement, eating, drinking–including alcohol–and shopping in addition to welcoming children. True to the “Culture Track ‘17” research, THE LUME is designed for “having fun” and “experiencing new things.”

One key constitute in Indianapolis has taken notice, the city’s mayor, Joe Hogsett. Hogsett is an uncommon face at Newfields’ press events, but he was there today, reinforcing the high hopes the institution and city have for the potential of this new direction.

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