Judi Dutcher has resigned as executive director of the Museum of Russian Art effective Dec. 1. She will become executive director of  the Bentson Foundation in Edina.

During her three-and-a-half year tenure at the South Minneapolis museum, Dutcher expanded the exhibition program to include pioneering photography from the Czarist era, contemporary prints, Russian textiles and postage stamp designs as well as the Soviet-era social realist paintings for which the museum is best known. She also oversaw the first solo-shows in the United States of paintings by Geli M. Korzhev and Vasili Nechitailo, prominent Soviet-era painters whose work was largely unknown outside their homeland. 

Dutcher, a former Minnesota state auditor and one-time DFL candidate for Lieutenant Governor, also established a scholarly lecture program, expanded the museum's staff of Russian speakers and art historians, and worked to strengthen its financial base. Founded by Ray Johnson, a Twin Cities businessman and pioneering collector of Russian art, the 9 year old museum was initially dependent on Johnson's fortune for its operating expenses.

Leaving TMORA was a hard decision, Dutcher said, because she loves its programs and new ventures including raising money in Russia where the museum has been applyint for grants "with some success." She had run the Minnesota Community Foundation before going to TMORA, however, and was intrigued when approached about the Bentson directorship. 

"The board asked me to stay when I tendered my resignation," at TMORA, Dutcher said, "But giving out money is a fun job so I just couldn't turn that down."

Museum board chair Bill McLaughlin, in a statement, credited Dutcher with having "advanced" the museum's "preparation for long-term financial security." 

Dutcher trimmed the museum's budget each year, cutting it from $1.6 million when she arrived in 2007 to $1.2 million this year. Its annual attendance has grown steadily to about 52,000, and membership now tops 1,000.

Brad Shinkle IV, the museum's former executive director, will return to his previous post following Dutcher's departure. Shinkle is a long-time associate of Johnson and was instrumental in developing the museum's programs and overseeing the renovation of its present quarters in a former church at 5500 Stevens Av. S.

The Bentson Foundation was established by Edina businessman Larry Bentson and his wife Barbara, long-time supporters of the University of Minnesota and other educational ventures. Larry Bentson, who died in April 2009 of cancer, was a co-founder of Midcontinent Commuunications. The foundation is expected to support education and arts endeavors.