Kristin Makholm has spent her career loving and working in museums, but until now she’s never brought a museum back from the brink of death.
When Makholm was hired as executive director of the Minnesota Museum of American Art in 2009, the century-old St. Paul organization was closed to the public. It had lost its space in the Ramsey County Government Center and had only one employee — Makholm.
Now the museum has 11 full-time and six part-time staffers, and on Dec. 2, celebrated its grand reopening. Located in the historic Pioneer-Endicott Building, the M has expanded from a small corner space into two large ground-floor galleries and a new creativity center. And more is coming. A second phase, in 2020, will add a home for the museum’s permanent collection galleries.
“[For me, the new M is about] the importance of a place where people can come together and be in community around the arts,” Makholm says. “To talk with other people, to experience artmaking together.”
To that end, Makholm spearheaded the move to create the Josephine Adele Ford Center for Creativity inside the M to offer arts education and classes ranging from traditional painting and sculpture to Mesoamerican flute-making and Hmong embroidery. Minnesota artists including Leslie Barlow, Maggie Thompson and Xilam Balam have been hired as teachers.
Makholm, who has two children and lives in south Minneapolis, previously worked as a curator of prints and drawings at the Milwaukee Art Museum and as director of galleries and exhibitions at Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
Reviving a once-homeless museum has been an adventure and a challenge. The M’s capital campaign raised $23 million, and Makholm will manage a nearly $2 million annual operating budget.
“I had to pretty much define everything myself from the beginning,” Makholm says. “There was no playbook.”
In reopening the museum, she wants to focus on the “expansive vision of what American art is,” she says. “Not only canonical artists, but also a much broader sense of artists who have been underrepresented and underappreciated.”