Museum of American Art to close -- for now

  • Article by: TIM HARLOW and MARY ABBE , Star Tribune staff writers
  • Updated: November 24, 2008 - 9:57 PM

Deficits and loss of its St. Paul home have the art museum packing and seeking a new place for its collection.

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Minnesota Museum of American Art

Photo: Rhonda Prast, Minnesota Museum of American Art

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The Minnesota Museum of American Art in downtown St. Paul plans to box up its collection and temporarily close in January after years of financial and leadership trouble. Its board president, David Kelly, a Minneapolis lawyer, said the institution hopes eventually to reopen in a new location, although it has not identified a potential site or raised any money.

The museum has posted operating deficits in each of the past three years. Its longtime director, Bruce Lilly, resigned in July and has not been replaced.

The museum, which displays works by Minnesota and American artists, will temporarily cease operations when its current exhibition, "Hot Ink: Comic Art in Minnesota," ends Jan. 4, said Kelly.

For the past four years, the museum has been housed in a former garage at 50 W. Kellogg Blvd., which it rented at a reduced rate from Ramsey County. Now the county has decided to sell the building. As a result, the museum was going to lose its exhibition site sometime in 2009, so the board decided to close, Kelly said.

Attendance is up this year from the 10,500 visitors recorded in 2007, said Kelly, who did not have exact numbers. However, the museum faces a growing budget crisis. Its annual deficit rose steadily from $108,000 in fiscal 2006 to about $260,000 in the year ending June 30.

The museum has been in decline since the late 1980s, when it failed to raise $25 million for a new building and endowment project. It sold its former home in the Art Deco-style Jemne Building, sold off an Asian art collection, changed its name to focus on American art and consolidated its programs at nearby Landmark Center. In the past decade the museum continually downsized, trimming its annual budget from $800,000 in 1998 to about $700,000 last year and reducing full-time staff from 13 to three this summer.

The future of the staff is uncertain. Kelly said there is no official effort underway to secure money for a new building, but "we hope we get community support for this home idea because it is going to cost some money."

The museum, known for its Art Deco sculpture by Minnesota native Paul Manship and paintings by Ojibwe artist George Morrison, will store its collection in a warehouse. Kelly said he hopes to display some items at "somebody else's location."

tharlow@startribune.com 612-673-7768 mabbe@startribune.com 612-673-4431

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