The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis recently announced a reorganization of part of its staff, which has resulted in a shuffling of its workers. Nine positions are being created, and five are being eliminated. The most high-profile position to come out of this restructuring is a new senior-level head of public engagement, learning, and impact, which will be held by Nisa Mackie, who was previously the Walker’s director of education and public programs. A head of content and communications position is also expected to be created, though it has not yet been filled.
Part of the museum’s elimination of several positions includes the loss of the Walker Reader, a digital magazine that published critical texts by artists, curators, and writers about current politics and their impact on art and institutions. For many in the art world, the Walker Reader, which had generated a loyal and international readership, had come to be considered an important publication within a gradually shrinking digital landscape for art journalism.
News of the Walker Reader‘s demise was made public on Tuesday in a tweet by Paul Schmelzer, the publication’s editor. “It was an honor to be the voice of the Walker for 18 yrs,” Schmelzer wrote on Twitter.
The shake-up in the Walker’s staff comes months after the museum laid off 33 part-time employees. The museum was anticipating a $5.7 million shortfall this year at the time. In a release, the museum said the reorganization was intended to “center audience engagement and the impact of its programs on the communities it serves.”
The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that the restructuring was in part a response to the 2017 controversy that erupted over Sam Durant’s Scaffold sculpture, a sized-to-scale replica of a gallows where 38 Dakota men were executed by hanging in 1862 and which was decried by the tribe’s leaders for the way it capitalized on historical killings of people in their community. (That year, the work’s copyright was given to the local Dakota tribe, whose elders dismantled and ceremonially buried it.)
In an email to ARTnews, Mary Ceruti, the Walker’s director, said the museum “is proud of the Reader and the contribution it has made to the critical dialogue around contemporary art and institutions.” She added, “We remain committed to publishing and engaging with the essential and urgent issues of our times. As a contemporary institution, reinvention is vital to our relevance. The online publishing landscape has shifted significantly and it is important that we rethink not whether, but how we contribute to the field in the future.”
When asked if the restructuring was a response to the Scaffold controversy, a Walker spokesperson directed ARTnews to a release in which Ceruti, who joined the museum in 2019, described the shift as a way “to fulfill our potential of connecting the most innovative artists and ideas with audiences here in the Twin Cities and around the world.”
The Walker Reader has been considered an essential publication within the art world. Artists such as Jack Whitten, Naeem Mohaiemen, Hans Haacke, Sky Hopinka, Natascha Sadr Haghihaghian, and others had contributed to it, as had critics and journalists such as Jessica Lynne, Taylor Renee Aldridge, Seph Rodney, Tyler Green, and many more.
Writing earlier this year in the New York Times, critic Jason Farago called the Walker’s website a “networked treasure house,” singling out the Walker Reader as one of its prime offerings. Farago wrote, “Because art is not just what’s on a museum’s walls. ‘Art’ is a whole collection of experiences and ideas and principles, and a museum’s digital and physical programming have to operate as coequals. The museum that understands this most fully is the Walker Art Center, in Minneapolis, which a decade ago rolled out the most aggressive and accessible websites of any American museum.”