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This content is shared with MinnPost by MNopedia, the digital encyclopedia created by the Minnesota Historical Society and supported by the Legacy Amendment’s Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.

When the Minneapolis Institute of Art opened it displayed 450 works of art. Today, its collection contains more than 89,000 objects

The Minneapolis Institute of Art opened in 1915, an outgrowth of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts.

Minneapolis Institute of Art, circa 1915
Minneapolis Institute of Art, circa 1915
Courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society

When the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) opened in 1915 it exhibited 450 pieces of art, most of them on loan. In the twenty-first century it is an encyclopedic art museum, boasting a collection of more than 89,000 objects that span 20,000 years and six continents; special exhibitions on topics that have ranged from Star Wars to Martin Luther; and a presence in the community that reflects more than a century of local support for the arts.

Mia was an outgrowth of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts (MSFA), which was founded in 1883 and maintained a small gallery on the top floor of the Minneapolis Public Library. At an MSFA dinner on January 10, 1911, financier DeWitt Clinton Morrison announced that he would donate ten acres of land so the society could build a museum, provided they could raise $500,000 for the building. MFSA President William Dunwoody immediately pledged $100,000, and a pledging frenzy ensued. Within ninety minutes, dinner guests had pledged another $250,000. The rest of the money was raised within the month.

The Minneapolis Institute of Arts (“Arts” included a final “s” until 2015) opened on January 8, 1915, in a neoclassical building designed by the New York firm McKim, Mead and White. A columned portico provided entry on East Twenty-Fourth Street. Accessibility was a paramount value: the museum offered free admission three days a week and complimentary wheelchairs. Attendance that first year exceeded nearly 148,000.

As befits an institution that opened in the Minnesota winter, support for the new museum snowballed. Dunwoody, who died in 1914, bequeathed $1 million in his will. Morrison’s daughter, Ethel Van Derlip, left the museum $500,000 in 1921; businessman James Ford Bell began donating American silver in 1932; and flour magnate Alfred F. Pillsbury bequeathed his entire Asian collection in 1950. By the turn of the twenty-first century, major donors included Target Corporation and Bruce and Ruth Dayton.

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Mia began building its collection at once. In addition to donations, major acquisitions have included an intact Egyptian mummy and coffin case (1916); Rembrandt’s Lucretia (1934); and, in 1992, the Jade Mountain, at 640 pounds the largest piece of imperial carved jade outside of China. In 1998 Mia opened twenty-two galleries of Asian art, including an entire seventeenth-century (Ming Dynasty) reception hall. It was purchased in China, then dismantled piece by piece—from floor tiles to carved wooden ceiling—before being crated, shipped, and reassembled at the museum. The room, and the scholar’s study that Mia acquired at the same time, showcase the museum’s outstanding collection of Chinese furniture and form the centerpiece of an Asian art collection that is among the finest in the country.

More galleries were added in 1998. In 2006 the museum opened its largest addition to date, the Target Wing, designed by Michael Graves. This added 40 percent more exhibition space, primarily for modern and non-Western art.

The Target Wing also increased by 80 percent the space available for the Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program (MAEP), an artist-run curatorial department. The program mounts several exhibitions per year of work by Minnesota artists and represents a unique partnership between a museum and its local artistic community.

Accessibility has remained a cornerstone of Mia’s mission. In 1989 the museum dropped its admission fee (then two dollars) for all but special exhibitions. In addition to MAEP, Mia has presented exhibitions by local Hmong, Somali, and Native American artists. Blockbuster exhibitions draw huge crowds. A 2018–2019 exhibition of undersea finds from ancient Egypt attracted 154,000 visitors. Overall attendance at the museum reached almost 780,000 in fiscal year 2019.

Mia’s collection continues to grow in the twenty-first century with recent loans and bequests from, respectively, Myron Kunin and Mary Griggs Burke, both in 2015.

For more information on this topic, check out the original entry on MNopedia.