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Walker Art Center and Minneapolis Institute of Art close the books on a year of 'learning'

17December 2021

After a pandemic that resulted in shutdowns, layoffs and budget cuts, the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Walker Art Center finished their fiscal years in the black.

It was a year of reopening, pivoting to outdoor events, navigating indoor spaces while enforcing limited capacity rules, and many other firsts.

“The seismic shockwave was felt around the world, across the cultural sector, throughout our communities, and within our personal lives,” said Walker executive director Mary Ceruti. “Alongside the many losses, there was invaluable learning that led us to new kinds of thinking and ways of connecting, with each other and with artists and audiences.”

The Walker edged into the black with net income from operations of $12,000 in the fiscal year that ended June 30, thanks in part to $2 million from the federal Payroll Protection Program. It also drew $5.9 million from its endowment of investments, up from $5.4 million in fiscal 2020.

The pandemic led to a 11% drop in overall revenue to $16.3 million, with museum admissions, rentals, merchandise and food sales down 36% and earned income from programming down 28%. At the same time, the Walker cut its operating expenses by nearly $2 million.

Meanwhile, the Minneapolis Institute of Art rebounded from a $1.2 million budget deficit in 2020 — its first loss in 27 years — to finish the fiscal year ended June 30 with a $3 million surplus.

Federal Cares Act relief funding was a big factor, but even without that money — much of which was set aside for infrastructure and other future uses — the museum would have managed a $370,115 surplus.

While the museum lost revenue in such areas as program activities, which was down about $1 million from $2.6 million, cost-cutting measures shaved 17% from Mia’s operating expenses.

In addition to staff reductions, “people were working remotely, curators and individuals weren’t able to travel like they normally would, and we did reduce public hours,” said Kris Davidson, Mia’s head of finance.

The museum also saw a 8% increase in governmental support, not including the $5.7 million Federal Cares Act funds. Most of that came from the Park Museum Fund, a century-old Hennepin County tax that provides public support in exchange for free admission at the museum.

Despite a drastic drop in Mia attendance — to 98,180 from 416,471 in fiscal 2020 and 779,973 the pre-pandemic year before — membership rose slightly, to 59,450.

Museums used the time to innovate, leveraging their digital platforms to present virtual programming. The Walker’s digital and virtual experiences were viewed, downloaded or attended more than 36,125 times.

Both museums innovated with outdoor programming as well, especially during forced COVID-19 closures. Five works from Mia’s permanent collection were reimagined as ice sculptures — Salvador Dalí’s “Aphrodisiac Telephone” landed at Boom Island Park, while Raffaelo Monti’s “Veiled Lady” revealed herself at Longfellow Park.

As the weather warmed up and quarantine shifted, the Walker debuted outdoor concerts on its hillside, including jazz concerts, dance performances, poetry, and more. A rain garden and urban farm took root in a vacant lot in north Minneapolis as part of an artist residency by Jordan Weber, becoming a healing space in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

Despite being closed for nearly three months, the Walker was able to open two major shows delayed by the pandemic: “Designs for Different Futures,” co-organized with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Art Institute of Chicago, and “The Paradox of Stillness,” organized by the Walker.

The Walker also spent the year drafting a five-year strategic plan that was approved last month by its board of trustees.

“Embarking on strategic planning over the past year, in the midst of a pandemic and a long-overdue racial reckoning, brought focus to our work, honed our attention on the best possible ways to deliver on our mission, and affirmed our commitment to equity and inclusion,” said Ceruti.

Looking ahead, Mia has planned a full exhibition schedule for the upcoming year, and it anticipates bringing back in-person tours in April. The much-awaited exhibition “Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art” — purportedly the first show to investigate artists’ relationships to the supernatural — will begin haunting Mia on Feb. 19.

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