We, as inhabitants of the Northern Great Plains, struggle to ensure that the arts are nourished, and that they flourish, because we know that a vital cultural life is deeply essential to isolated people. We have concluded that to study the arts is to educate our minds, for through the arts we learn to make difficult decisions based upon abstract and ambiguous information. This is the ultimate goal of education. Furthermore, we have come to value the arts because they make our hearts wise—the highest of human goals. Therefore, in the most difficult of times, and in an environment that might be perceived as alien to the visual arts, we propose to build a world-class museum for the people of the Northern Plains.
The North Dakota Museum of Art, by legislative act, serves as the official art museum of the State of North Dakota. The Museum’s purpose is to foster and nurture the aesthetic life and artistic expression of the people living on the Northern Plains. The Museum will provide experiences that please, enlighten and educate the child, the student and the broad general public. Specifically, the Museum will research, collect, conserve and exhibit works of art. It will also develop programs in such related arts as performance, media arts and music.
The North Dakota Museum of Art began in the mid-1970s as the University of North Dakota Art Galleries, a temporary exhibition space primarily for the benefit of university students. In 1981 the North Dakota State Legislature designated the University Galleries as North Dakota’s official art museum. With its expanded mission came a new name: the North Dakota Museum of Art.
The first task was to find an appropriate and permanent home. A building fund, established in the late 1970s from private sources, had grown to $1 million. The staff and the Friends of the North Dakota Museum of Art, a nonprofit organization established in 1985, raised an additional $400,000. The University of North Dakota agreed to give the Museum a 1907 gymnasium if the Friends raised the additional money needed for the renovation. In September 1989, the building, designed by Harvey Hoshour, an MIT graduate who worked for Mies van der Rohe before establishing his own firm in New Mexico, opened to great public enthusiasm. Artists participated by designing the public restrooms (neon artist Cork Marcheschi), the gift shop and the donor wall (Barton Benes), and the sculpture garden (Richard Nonas).
The North Dakota Museum of Art collects contemporary, international art in all media from the early 1970s onwards. It collects the visual history of the region. It is also assembling a survey collection of contemporary Native American art, starting with the early 1970s when the movement emerged. This does not preclude the acceptance of collections that are outside this focus if they would enrich the visual life of our audience, i.e., a historic textile collection.
The North Dakota Museum of Art is housed in a transformed gymnasium. In 1985 UND’s old Women’s Gym on the south edge of the campus was donated to the Museum. The building, with its 30-foot beamed ceilings and its maple floor, provided a spectacular shell for the galleries.
The exterior has a carved lintel describing what you might expect on the inside, but GYMNASIUM belies the interior and its content. As described by Patrice Clark Koelsh, “when I go through the door, I feel like Judy Garland’s Dorothy stepping out of the black-and-white Kansas homestead and magically transported to the technicolor Kingdom of Oz.”
The late Harvey Hoshour, an architect from Albuquerque, New Mexico, designed the 16,000 square-foot space to include three exhibition galleries, a video information room, a coat room, and a gift shop. The two large exhibition spaces on the main floor stretch the full height of the building. Both spaces have glorious light from two-story, scrim shaded windows and a skylight that runs the length of the building. The third exhibition space is an ample yet intimate second-story loft. Administrative offices and café are on the lower level, where they too have natural light. There are unexpected touches of whimsy in the mostly serene and unassuming environment: The ceilings of the restrooms have neon sculpture by Minneapolis artist Cork Marcheschi, the gift shop has selections of a variety of artwork, including children’s books about the flood.
Matthew Wallace was named Executive Director of the North Dakota Museum of Art in 2022. Wallace grew up in the Spirit Lake Reservation and attended Warwick Public School. In 1999 he received his BA in Literature from the University of North Dakota. In 2000, Wallace moved to Aiud, Romania, where he taught English as a Second Language in the Peace Corps. In 2004, Matthew moved from Washington, D.C. to North Dakota to start the Museum’s Rural Arts Initiative, a touring exhibition program for all North Dakota communities. While working at the Museum, Matthew received his Master’s of Liberal Arts degree from Minnesota State University Moorhead. Wallace has curated numerous auctions and exhibitions at the North Dakota Museum of Art, organized the Museum’s outdoor summer concert series, and the Museum’s McCanna House artist-in-residence program. He was a Board member for Arts Midwest from 2012 – 2023.
Board of Trustees 2022 – 2023
Kyle Black – Treasurer
Ashley DiPuma Shea
Brian Larson – Chair
Karen Molmen – Secretary
Carson C. Muth
Laurel Reuter was the Founding Director of the North Dakota Museum of Art where she also served as Chief Curator for nearly 50 years. She was born and raised on the Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota. She received an MA in American literature from the University of North Dakota in 1977, and as a graduate student—again in literature—established the University Art Galleries in the University Student Union that evolved into North Dakota’s first art museum, the North Dakota Museum of Art. She has curated dozens of exhibitions by regional, national and international artists and directed numerous artistic commissions. “CBS News Sunday Morning” produced two segments about Reuter in 1997. ARTNews profiled her in the November 1998 issue. In July 1998 Reuter was one of twenty people profiled by the Bismarck Tribune in their first edition of Notable North Dakotans. Reuter was honored with the 1999 Award of Distinction from the National Council of Art Administrators “in recognition of her dedication to art and to culture in North Dakota and her struggle to create a world-class museum in a remote environment. She helped a devastated community draw together and recover its spiritual existence (following the 1997 region-wide flood).” In 2007, she received the Apple Valley Curatorial Excellence Award ($10,000 for future curatorial work), an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of North Dakota, and the North Dakota Governor’s Award for Individual Contribution to the Arts. In 2008 Reuter was awarded a $50,000 Curatorial Research Award from the Andy Warhol Foundation to study “what it means to be a Middle Eastern Woman in today’s world.” In 2013, she spent the month of January in Marfa, Texas, on a Lannan Literary Fellowship.
Reuter is the author, editor, and designer of many publications about art. Among her first publications was “Frontiers in Fiber: The Americans” which accompanied her exhibition by the same name and traveled to major cities throughout the Pacific Rim and China (1988-92). In 1997, she published “Whole Cloth” with co-author Mildred Constantine. “The Disappeared” came out in 2006 in conjunction with her exhibition which toured to five countries in Latin America and six cities in the States. Her most recent writing projects include “Into the Tussock: Contemporary Iceland Art” (2011) and a collaboration with printmaker Nancy Friese on a print portfolio, “Tumbling Time,” with poems and essays by Reuter (2011) and “Snow Country Prison: Interned in North Dakota” (2013).