Less than two months into her tenure as director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Kaywin Feldman has reorganized the museum's staff, created three upper-management positions and filled two with existing staff. The shakeup has ruffled some feathers, especially in the curatorial department, but the reorganization also has streamlined an organization that had grown willy-nilly into an unwieldy bureaucracy.

Previously 15 department heads reported directly to the museum chief. She reduced that to five, plus an administrative assistant and a secretary.

"I feel very strongly that the board [of directors] hired me to lead the organization, not just to manage the staff -- because that's all I'd be doing with 15 people coming right to me," Feldman said last week in her spacious, modern office overlooking the museum's garden court. "Even before I came here, I knew we needed to make changes."

Feldman arrived at the museum in January from the much smaller Memphis Brooks Museum of Art in Tennessee. Her predecessor, William Griswold, left to be director of the J.P. Morgan Museum and Library in New York City.

In her initial conversations she found the 254 staffers "incredibly dedicated" to the museum, but enormously frustrated by administrative issues, she said. People repeatedly complained that it took three weeks to get an appointment to see the director, leading her to conclude they needed "more people empowered to make decisions."

She announced a restructuring Feb. 12 after consulting with Griswold and museum board chair Brian Palmer, and studying the organizational charts of comparable museums in St. Louis, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Detroit and elsewhere.

Promotions and reshuffling

Pat Grazzini, the museum's longtime chief operating officer, was promoted to deputy director, second only to Feldman. Simultaneously Grazzini's responsibilities were trimmed to focus on managing the museum's $25 million annual budget, human resources and operational systems, including the museum's shop and restaurants. Her previous oversight of fund-raising, public relations, membership and related tasks became the portfolio of a new, and still vacant, position called "assistant director for institutional advancement."

The curatorial department -- the museum's traditional center of artistic clout and intellectual power -- was reconfigured under a new assistant director for curatorial affairs. That job went to Matthew Welch, the institution's longtime curator of Japanese and Korean art.

Under previous directors, curatorial leadership typically revolved among the department's colleagues. Welch's appointment passed over two senior curators, of painting and Asian art, who now report to him.

The departments of education, chaired by Kate Johnson, and exhibitions and programs, headed by Mikka Gee Conway, were largely untouched.

Staff members declined to discuss the changes publicly because, as one explained, "we've all been told, more forcefully than usual, not to speak with the press about what's going on."

Curatorial upheaval

The curatorial division has been stressed in the past five years as the museum completed a $50 million expansion and had four different directors: Evan Maurer, who was incapacitated by health problems in 2004; Robert Jacobsen, the Asian art curator who stepped in as interim director in 2005; Griswold (2006-07), and now Feldman.

Several curators took other jobs, retired or died in that time, leaving key vacancies in African, decorative and contemporary art, photographs, prints and drawings. The museum is seeking to fill those posts, and Feldman said she hopes to announce at least one appointment soon. She is also leading the development of a new strategic plan to guide the choice of exhibitions and programs.

"I don't expect we will change our mission in the process, but we absolutely have to be thinking about our audience and strategic goals," Feldman said.

She cited an exhibition of contemporary photography and video art from India, set to open in October, as an example of new programming that the museum might embrace. The show's multimedia and international focus seem more typical of rival Walker Art Center, but Feldman said it complemented the institute's historical Indian art and meshed with her "interest in showing the cultural continuity of all culture."

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431