THE MINNESOTA MUSEUM OF AMERICAN ART announced the appointment of Robyne Robinson as chair of its board of directors. A former news anchor, Robinson is the founder of Five x Five Public Art Consulting. The news was announced July 16 and she has assumed her new post.

Known as The M, the St. Paul museum closed indefinitely in 2009. Several years ago, the museum made a comeback, regaining some footing with a modest gallery space in a historic building, which it recently expanded, reopening in December 2018.

“I’m excited to work with Executive Director Kristin Makholm, and share her mission to explore what it means today to be an ‘American Art’ museum: What is our identity? Whom does it include? The M should reflect the history and diversity of our community in its educational programming and exhibitions,” Robinson said in a statement. “It’s time to challenge traditional institutional ideas and give everyone an emotional stake in a museum with 21st century goals.”

An anchor at KMSP-TV Fox 9 for two decades, Robinson is a well-known local personality who has re-focused her career within the arts community. In 2013, she was named art director at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, a newly created position where she developed an expansive public arts program working with city officials, architects, designers, and artists. She has said the goal is “to ‘re-imagine’ MSP as a 21st century arts airport, one that is a gathering place where people can interact with the work and each other.”

Robinson stepped down last year. Five x Five Public Art Consulting grew out of her experience at the airport, where she continues to collaborate on projects. She is also chair of the State Capitol Art Exhibition Committee, where her priority is addressing multicultural representation, and a member of the Minneapolis Arts Commission.

AT THE M, the institution has a fresh start after a rocky struggle to survive dating to 2009. Founded in 1894, as the St. Paul School of Fine Arts, the museum has cycled through several names and locations over the years. It began building a permanent collection in the 1940s and after a few monikers, changed its name in 1969 to the Minnesota Museum of Art and finally to the Minnesota Museum of “American” Art in 1992.

A decade ago, “the financially strapped organization abandoned its exhibition space, stashed the art in storage, and practically dissolved for good,” according to Mpls.St.Paul Magazine. Kristin Makholm was hired in 2009 as executive director to take on what was viewed as an impossible assignment: Save the museum.

Constantly on the phone, she raised money, developed touring exhibitions drawn from the museum’s holdings of more than 4,000 artworks, and by 2013 the museum occupied a project space in the city’s landmark Pioneer-Endicott building. In 2017, The M’s budget was nearly $6.8 million and 6,000 people visited the museum.

The historic building was reimagined, renovated, and reopened in December 2018 and will expand further, with additional permanent collection galleries in 2020.

Robinson serves on the 18-member board with two other African Americans—Hawona Sullivan Janzen, a gallery curator at the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center/UROC and architect Nathan Johnson, founder of 4RM+ULA Architects, based in St. Paul and New York City.

The first African American chair of The M, Robinson joins a rare group. Art museum boards—charged with decisions such as budget and institutional priorities, executive hiring, and acquisitions—are overwhelmingly white and African American representation in their leadership ranks is virtually nonexistent. To address the lack of board diversity, the American Alliance of Museums announced a new inclusion initiative designed to bring awareness to the issue and address the problem.

In July 2018, Dr. Monroe E. Harris Jr., an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, was appointed president of the board of trustees at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) in Richmond.

The VMFA is a much larger museum in terms of the size of its collection (more than 35,000 works of art), budget ($37 million in FY 2015), and annual visitors (about half a million). Similar to Robinson’s announcement, when Harris was tapped to head the VMFA’s board, the museum specifically cited the fact that he was the first African American to lead its governing body since its founding in 1934. CT


FIND MORE about Robyne Robinson’s background in the arts


FIND MORE about how The M made it back from the brink

FIND MORE about The M’s recent reopening


READ MORE about museum board diversity: A 2017 survey by the American Alliance of Museums (which covers all kinds of museums, including art museums) showed that museum board membership is 89 percent white and 46 percent of museums boards are 100 percent white. The same survey found African American representation among museum board members is 5 percent and among chairs is 3 percent.

READ MORE about efforts to address museum board diversity: In January, the American Alliance of Museums announced a museum board diversity and inclusion initiative and last week named 51 museums selected to participate. A few days ago, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker wrote about board diversity in the New York Times


As institutions face new opportunities and challenges, “Making a Museum in the 21st Century” engages museum leaders, curators, artists, and architects about the future of museums “against the backdrop of large demographic shifts around the world.” Contributors include Hirshhorn Museum Director Melissa Chui (editor) and British architect David Adjaye.


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