What’s next for the Minnesota Museum of American Art?

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Last fall, Kate Beane got a call from her friend Jim Denomie, the late artist, who was helping the Minnesota Museum of American Art search for a new executive director. Beane wasn’t sure she wanted the job, which had been vacant since July 2020.

“I think you’d be great at M,” he told her.

Beane was director of Native American initiatives at the Minnesota Historical Society and wasn’t really looking to move. But Denomie, who passed away last month, was someone who offered “support not only to Indigenous artists, but to Indigenous professionals in the field,” Beane said. “To be honest, I think that was one of the big draws for me.”

She ended up becoming chief executive of M’s last December and is settling into her new vision of a museum that truly engages the community.

Beane, who is Flandreau Santee Sioux Dakota and Muskogee Creek, has a doctorate in American Studies from the University of Minnesota. She sees her work more broadly as storytelling.

The Star Tribune caught up with her to find out what’s next for the museum, which has remained closed since the start of the pandemic and the sacking of executive director Kristin Makholm, who brought the M from bankruptcy to a new home. in downtown St. Paul. This interview has been edited for clarity.

Q: I didn’t realize that Jim Denomie played such a role in your decision.

A: The Minnesota Historical Society was absolutely fabulous in terms of the experience and the communities I was able to work with. I think one of the things that was difficult, just to be honest, was the politics. This is where Jim has been a great mentor to me. Sometimes when you’re working on difficult stories and narratives for people of color, you get a backlash. He and I have had to deal with this over the years, and we’ve supported each other through it.

As I worked in places like Fort Snelling and Bde Maka Ska and historic sites in the area, I realized that I was increasingly drawn to the visual arts. Part of the reason is how to help audiences see and understand these complex narratives. I didn’t want to see any more text plates. I wanted to see more public art that had that power to impact people in ways that texts can’t.

My dad is a great mentor to me – he’s a retired community organizer and now a filmmaker. I told him it was a big leap for me to go from public history to the arts, and he said ‘No it’s not, Katie, it’s the same thing. It’s of storytelling.” And it’s in that same work in terms of being an advocate and a big proponent of the inclusion of stories, perspectives, and voices that have historically been excluded.

Q: What is the status of the museum reopening plan?

A: We are finishing a fundraising campaign and hope to open probably late 2023. We are growing from 2,000 square feet of gallery space to 6,000. We will still be in the historic Pioneer Endicott building, but we will be taking on a larger footprint .

Q: What is your vision of M?

A: I’m really interested in the community partnership model we’ve developed over the years, working with local organizations, local artists, and local art collectives, such as Grupo Soap del Corazón.

We really need to focus on the core of what M is and bring it to the present in terms of the diversity of who we are as a region. I think of the ways the M can be a hub for community artists and the diverse representation of BIPOC people and Indigenous arts throughout the region, in a way that uplifts our community partners.

Q: What ideas for exhibitions or programming do you have in mind?

A: One of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot is spotlighting an Indigenous Arts Initiative. I’m Dakota, and I wouldn’t bring any of that into the work under any circumstances.

Often, as Indigenous peoples here in Minnesota, our arts and our performance get dragged into other spaces. The Ojibwe are pulled north, the Ho Chunk are pulled Wisconsin, and Dakota depictions are often pulled west on the plains along the Lakota, but we as Native people know that the center of the native arts of this region can be found here. We want to elevate this regional concentration of Native arts in Minnesota as a hub.

Often when we talk about diverse communities, you have these one-off exhibits. You have exposure to a certain community and then you no longer engage with it. What we really want to see are all of these kinds of broader themes and connections embedded throughout.

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