By Kate Iverson, the651.com
For the past few years, St. Paul has been mourning the loss of its only fine art museum, the Minnesota Museum of American Art (MMAA). The museum, which lost its physical space when the city reclaimed the riverfront property in 2009, chose not to simply drift away, instead opting to maintain creative programming outside the “box” of a brick and mortar location. They produced satellite exhibitions at various galleries, facilitated arts education through artist talks and other programming, continued fundraising, and perhaps most importantly, they remained engaged with their community throughout. So, it came as a happy, yet inevitable surprise when the MMAA announced plans for a new physical space within Downtown St. Paul’s historic Pioneer-Endicott Building at 141 East 4th Street, which is scheduled to open to the public by October.
We chatted with the MMAA’s director and most stalwart champion Kristin Makholm about the new plans and upcoming programming (hint: Patio nights will return!).
the651.com: We’re so excited about the return of the MMAA! Can you tell us a little bit about the new space and what you plan to do with it?
Makholm: MMAA at the Pioneer is a temporary space, about 3,700 square feet, which will hold exhibitions, events, and conversations that intersect with the community in a dynamic and embedded way. It will be open on a limited basis. While there will always be art in the space, we’re hoping to keep it pretty open and flexible so that we can host conversations, charettes, events, and activities that bring new audiences and new voices into the neighborhood. We see it like an incubation space, or exploratory space, for connecting visual art and cultural experience with artists and the community and really listening to what people want and need in this new MMAA.
the651.com: It must have been a challenging task to fundraise for a museum without walls. How did you keep the momentum going?
Makholm: Even without a building, the MMAA has one great asset: its collection. It was clear to us that getting the collection out, building partnerships with other museums and galleries, and bringing art to the broader Minnesota community was a way to show people that we are active, engaged, and can provide meaningful experiences connecting art to people all over the state. In all cases, we programmed conversations (in conjunction with the host organizations) that brought new audiences into the gallery to talk about art with the artists themselves, and with other folks. Thus, we were able to start on the road of connecting people with the collection, and this helped our fundraising initiatives. I think people just want to be listened to and appreciated, but it was clear, they also really missed the MMAA!
the651.com: The MMAA’s collection is pretty vast, with over 4000 pieces in its permanent collection. Where are these pieces housed now, and how do you plan to exhibit pieces of the collection in the new space?
Makholm: The collection has been in a single storage space since 1995, and it’s being well taken care of. The “on the road” shows we’ve been doing for the past three years will continue with the collection including the Our Treasures show, which travels to the Plains Art Museum in Fargo in September and the Weisman Art Museum in February, and a photography show from the collection that opens at the Catherine Murphy gallery at St. Kate’s in February, too. We’re also working on a large national traveling retrospective of the work of George Morrison, half of which comes from the MMAA collection, which opens at the Plains Art Museum in June 2013, and will continue throughout the country, ending up at the Weisman Art Museum in spring of 2015.
With so much work on the road and in other parts of the metro and state, the MMAA at the Pioneer will focus on shows of local artists, although we will occasionally be bringing out works from the MMAA collection. The opening show will be a show titled “Painting the Place Between,” curated by the artist Kristen Lowe from Gustavus Adolphus College, and feature the paintings of Betsy Byers, Jil Evans, Andrew Wykes, and Holly Swift. The exhibition for our CuratorKids program will appear in the space at some point, too. We’re also looking at another photography show and a jewelry/metalwork show from our collection, but those are really in the concept stage right now.
the651.com: Do you have plans yet for additional programming, such as workshops, fun community events, etc? We really miss Patio Nights!
Makholm: Patio Nights lives! It will be at the City House on St. Paul’s Upper Landing this August. This is an important event for us, and we plan to continue it into the future. Additional programming for the Pioneer space is still open and awaits the creativity and drive of a new “curator of engagement” who we are in the process of hiring, but it will certainly include art conversations, events, and neighborhood get togethers. Stay tuned!
the651.com: What are your most favorite people/places/things about St. Paul?
Makholm: I’m from Milwaukee, so I find a kindred spirit here in St. Paul: the neighborhoods, diverse ethnic communities and food, and the fact that it’s just downright friendly. Any town that has poetry stamped into its sidewalks is right by me!
Keep up to date with the MMAA’s happenings by visiting their website or subscribing to their newsletter at www.mmaa.org.