There is always a silver lining, even to a tough pandemic year wrought with closures, layoffs and deficits. For the Minneapolis Institute of Art, that silver lining rings to the tune of more than $19 million.

Mia announced five gifts Thursday that will allow it to create two new posts — a first-ever curator of Latin American art and a chief diversity and inclusion officer who will join the museum's leadership team.

The gifts are part of a drive to build Mia's operating endowment following its first budget deficit in 27 years.

"It's been a fruitful time, taking advantage of the passions of our supporters of Mia during this hard time," said Director Katie Luber, who started work right before the pandemic hit. "It's been an incredible outpouring of generosity, support and recognition of the need for different kinds of diversity."

This round of endowment gifts is the highest amount since Mia's last capital campaign in 2001-06.

The gifts also will provide support for the museum's recently reinstalled South, Southeast Asian and Chinese Art galleries and the leadership post of deputy director/chief operating officer.

Mia's operating endowment — basically, an investment fund that generates income to fund the museum's operations — is valued at $302 million, but about 45% is dedicated solely to art acquisitions.

Identifying needs

Luber said she identified the need for a diversity officer soon after she started in January 2020.

"Mia has a long history of staff engagement," she said, pointing to a 2018 Philando Castile exhibit and the current "Rituals of Resilience," both of which "address the pain of the African American community here through art.

"But the leadership team member was always missing in that."

The new job is endowed through gifts of $4 million from former board chair Nivin MacMillan — $1 million in immediate support and $3 million in a future bequest — and $1 million from trustee Sheila Morgan. The museum is starting a national search for the post.

Similarly, when Luber joined Mia from the San Antonio Museum of Art, she noticed there was no curator of Latin American art. Her former museum, in a predominantly Latino community, had two curatorial posts in that department. Roughly 9% of Minneapolis and St. Paul residents are Hispanic or Latino, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Luber connected with longtime contributors Ken and Linda Cutler, who have a strong interest in Latin American art. Ken Cutler, a member of Mia's board since 2014, offered an annual commitment plus a bequest — more than $6 million in all — to permanently endow the position.

"It is a reflection of our many interests, from collecting and celebrating Latin American art to supporting our community's collective work on racial equity," Cutler said.

Mia has just 2,100 Latin American objects in its permanent collection — less than 3% of its holdings. By comparison, San Antonio, with an overall collection one-third the size of Mia's, has about 8,000.

Mia's Latin American collection began in 1941 and includes works from Mexico and Central and South America. The first piece was a world-class carved stone ballgame yoke from El Tajin in Veracruz, Mexico. Recent acquisitions include works by contemporary artist Gabriel Orozco, photographer Graciela Iturbide and fiber artist Alexandra Kehayoglou.

The search for a curator is in the early stages.

Pandemic recovery

In addition to those gifts, former trustee Curt Dunnavan contributed $6 million to endow the post of chief operating officer while two unidentified longtime donors made a $2 million bequest commitment to support the department of South Asian, Southeast Asian and Chinese Art.

The museum reported a $1.23 million shortfall in fiscal 2020, with revenue down $2.4 million in the year that ended last June 30. Mia blamed the pandemic, citing significant drops in revenue and contributions. It forced Luber to cut 39 positions a year ago.

Luber said that none of the lost jobs will come back, including posts such as head of interpretation and participatory experience and press and public relations specialist. She thinks these new positions can lead to further expansions at the museum.

"Mia is an encyclopedic museum that includes everything, but we weren't including that," she said of the newly created posts. "I wanted to make sure we were fulfilling our commitment of representing world cultures, especially given that we have such an interesting mix of immigrant communities here in the Twin Cities."

@AliciaEler • 612-673-4437