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Minnesota Museum of American Art fires its longtime director

Less than two years after leading the re-energized Minnesota Museum of American Art into a new St. Paul home, Executive Director Kristin Makholm has been fired, the museum's board chairman said Tuesday.

When Makholm took the helm in July 2009, the museum was virtually bankrupt and had been closed for about 18 months after losing its lease at the Ramsey County Government Center. But she soon found a new space at the historic Pioneer Endicott building, where it celebrated a grand reopening in December 2018.

Board Chairman Gregory Page, who spent three decades working on redevelopment issues for the St. Paul Riverfront Corp., would not say why Makholm was dismissed. The museum has been closed since mid-March because of COVID-19 concerns, and was tentatively planning to reopen next February.

"The future is bright for the M, but not without challenges," Page said in a statement. "Through tough economic times and cultural turmoil, our professional staff and board of trustees provide a strong foundation."

Managing a budget of nearly $2 million, eight full-time staff and four part-timers — a reduction from 11 and six, respectively, due to covid-related layoffs — Makholm had led a multimillion-dollar capital campaign to carve out a new space in the 130-year-old building, designed in part by State Capitol architect Cass Gilbert. Phase 2 of the project, originally planned for this year, would nearly triple the gallery space. Page said the museum would evaluate the timing of Phase 2 construction while continuing to present exhibits and programs and addressing issues of equity.

"The M will keep working toward building a museum that celebrates its history and reflects a deep commitment to today's BIPOC artists and the greater community," said Board Member Robyne Robinson, who recently stepped down as board chairwoman after taking the position of public art coordinator for the city of Carlsbad, Calif.

Board Member Jim Denomie said that he was unaware of the firing and that there were no rumblings beforehand. In mid-June, Makholm told the Star Tribune that while the M was closed, it would bring art into the community, such as the St. Paul skyways.

"We are looking at how we can serve the diverse group of people that we serve, maybe bringing more to them in the spaces they feel comfortable in," she said.

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