People Issue

Maxwell Anderson: The Innovator

In this week's Dallas Observer we profile 30 of the metro area's most interesting characters, with new portraits of each from local photographer Mark Graham. See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

Altering the focal direction of a long-standing institution like the Dallas Museum of Art doesn't happen overnight -- unless the person hired for the job is Maxwell Anderson.

He's a curious man -- equal parts museum celebrity and innovator -- who spent the weekends and summers of his youth in an upstate New York artists nook founded by his grandfather. Composer Kurt Weill and actress Lotte Lenya were neighbors; poets, artists and musicians lurked around every corner. But even there, in that lush garden of creativity, Anderson knew he'd never be an artist.

"Having absolutely no talent," he says, "I don't think that would have been a good idea."

Anderson took the road of curation and, eventually, museum administration. Now he's in Dallas. And by God, he's here on a mission.

In the few quick months since arriving from Indianapolis -- where he earned a reputation as one of the nation's most progressive museum bosses -- he's launched changes that have technologically pushed the DMA forward by what feels like years. From Dashboard -- a nifty addition to the museum's website that allows the public to see where and how money is being spent -- to Art Babble, a cloud-style group-think effort that invites instant video exchange among museums, the DMA quickly cashed in on some of Anderson's greatest inventions.

"I started a long time ago thinking about the Web as a place for collaboration, rather than just brochure sites," Anderson says. "I've always believed sharing information across museums for the benefit of researchers and the public is a much more powerful way of thinking about its potential."

His commitment to technology doesn't begin or end with websites and apps, either. He's pledged and raised substantial amounts of money to build an in-house conservation department, much like he did at the Whitney more than a decade ago.

"There's a neurosis that museums have to be in the entertainment business," Anderson says, "when I think research is what's going to build great financial resources for us."

Anderson envisions a department that will act as an information nexus, a place for not just restoration but for research, outreach, establishing a well-rounded collection and preparing for the museum's suddenly brighter future.

See the entire Dallas Observer People Issue here.

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Jamie Laughlin
Contact: Jamie Laughlin