Minneapolis Institute of Arts ends year in the black

  • Article by: MARY ABBE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 20, 2012 - 4:04 PM

Museum balanced its budget despite drops in attendance and membership.

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MIA director Kaywin Feldman.

Photo: Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

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Minneapolis Institute of Arts officials on Thursday announced a balanced budget and the successful completion of a four-year plan in their annual report to members.

The museum balanced its $25 million budget for the fiscal year that ended June 30. At 456,000 visitors, attendance was down slightly from the previous year's 471,000.

Nevertheless, with no blockbuster shows on the museum's schedule, "that attendance was actually 11 percent higher than we predicted," director Kaywin Feldman said in an interview.

Attendance at two exhibits reversed expectations. "Edo Pop," which mixed traditional Japanese prints with contemporary paintings and video, attracted about 30,000 visitors, nearly double the predictions. But the highly touted "Sports Show," a mid-winter photo survey, pulled fewer than 18,000 people, about half what the museum anticipated.

The Sports Show "did bring in new audiences, though not to the degree we expected," said Feldman, adding that the exhibit attracted welcome attention from national media even as the rest of its marketing campaign fell short. The show's title was "clever but opaque" and left the content ambiguous, she said. And since museum audiences are "predominantly female," she said, the mostly male images used to promote the show missed the mark.

The museum is attracting younger and more diverse crowds, Feldman said. The average age of visitors is 42, down from 46 just four years ago when she arrived. In the same period, the average age of members has fallen to 55 from 68. She credited the trend to a contemporary art program funded in part by a $750,000 grant from the Wallace Foundation that has mixed contemporary art into historic galleries, commissioned new work and supported artists-in-residence.

The museum also has worked to refine its collection, develop exhibitions and foster scholarship. It received more than 350 artworks as gifts last year, including 43 contemporary works-on-paper, 56 African masks and sculpture, 240 Renaissance drawings and 23 Japanese and Korean paintings. More than half of the MIA’s exhibitions are now organized by staff curators, up from 16 percent in 2008. And the curators published 100 books, articles and essays last year, up from 22 just four years earlier.

Membership slipped from 19,087 last year to 17,347, the lowest figure since 1992. It peaked in 2003 at 31,000 -- with record attendance of nearly 600,000 -- driven by popular shows of Egyptian art, Picasso prints and 19th century American landscapes.

The 2012 budget included $11 million from the Park Museum Fund, a century-old Hennepin County tax that provides public support in exchange for free admission at the museum. The tax, levied on all Hennepin County properties, generated $781,800 less than the previous year because the market value of county property fell.

Anticipating that shortfall, the museum cut staff and programs in April 2011 and is still "squeezing everywhere we can," Feldman said. Installing LED lights in the galleries, for example, saved $57,000 annually. An annual gala raised $500,000.

This fall, following Walker Art Center's lead, it plans to charge for parking. "It costs about $350,000 to maintain and secure the parking facilities and we are hoping to make that back,” said Feldman.  “It’s definitely squeezing blood from a turnip, but it is a balanced budget.”

Walker Art Center, whose fiscal year also ended June 30, declined to release figures pending an audit that will be finished by Sept. 30.

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431

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