Breaking: More changes at the MIA

This month, we report on the ambitious internal overhaul of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts as coordinated by new director Kaywin Feldman. This has included a thorough and ongoing revamp of the management structure, which she hopes will help the museum, for a long while preoccupied with building a building, construct a reputation equal to its world-renowned collection.

That restructuring has now made its way to the public relations department–one managerial job cut, another scaled back–as a new assistant director consolidates marketing and development with an eye toward bigger things. How big? The museum has contracted with Resnicow Schroeder Associates (RSA), a high-profile New York public relations and marketing firm, to secure national media attention for the museum. RSA specializes in arts marketing and has worked with many of the leading large and mid-size museums across the country, including the Cooper-Hewitt, the American Museum of Natural History, and the Walker Art Center during the opening of its new building a couple years back. Much is in the works at the MIA, and the rest of the country will soon find out about it.

From my point of view, having worked with no one at the MIA as closely as the PR folks, it’s bittersweet: I’ll greatly miss those I developed close working relationships with. I’m also hopeful the new era of openness promised by some of Feldman’s changes will enable more and better coverage of the MIA. Historically, and from my own experience, an unnecessary aura of secrecy has pervaded the marble halls. Years ago, while writing a puffy piece about museum workers’ favorite pieces at their respective museums, the MIA guards informed me they weren’t to talk to reporters about anything regarding the museum, much as they really did have personal favorites–policy is policy and fair enough when it comes internal affairs, that’s common sense; but it’s also common sense that it might be good PR to demonstrate that even the guards are well-informed and love art. On another occasion, a press person sat in on my interview with the director, something that has only happened to me once before–with the president of the University of Minnesota; more understandable, given he was facing a strike and god knows how many lawsuits in running a place the size of a large suburb, and actually that person was his legal counsel. Hard as we tried, the situation inevitably served to cramp both the director’s style and mine and made for a less-interesting interview and therefore a less interesting story and therefore less effective PR. I’m hopeful, then, that the MIA’s new grown-up era, popping its head into the wider world, will begin with a truly grown-up approach to talking about itself and allowing itself to be talked about, with the confidence that greatness endows.