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MIA director Evan Maurer to retire
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Evan Maurer is retiring from his position as director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, after 16 years leading the MIA. (Photo courtesy of MIA)

Minneapolis, Minn. — (AP) - Evan Maurer, the charismatic director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts who eliminated admission fees and worked to bring the arts into the community, will retire after 16 years for health reasons.

Maurer, 60, suffers from a degenerative disease and has been on medical leave since September. He will officially leave the post Feb. 28. The museum announced his resignation on Wednesday.

"For someone who has been a competitive athlete in youth and through college, the idea of getting out of the game before it is finished, at the beginning of the fourth quarter, is very hard," Maurer told the Star Tribune. "But it's time. It's time. I'm starting to come to grips with what that means and what I have to do."

Last year Maurer was Minnesota's highest-paid arts and culture executive, with a salary of $584,307.

He will likely be remembered most for eliminating entrance charges, making the institute one of the country's few major art museums that is free. In addition, Maurer oversaw a $30 million renovation completed in 1998 and launched a $50 million expansion scheduled for completion in spring 2006.

This is the premiere museum that it is today, largely due to the vision of Evan Maurer.
- Ford Bell, MIA board chairman

In his heyday, he seemed to be everywhere - serving on civic art committees, showing up at other museum galas and giving impromptu tours of the institute's collection.

"Evan unquestionably is the most public and civic-minded leader the institute has had in decades," said Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak.

Rybak praised Maurer for "featuring works of native people and communities of color in ways no one had even dreamed of before."

Ford Bell, chairman of the museum's board of directors, praised Maurer's success at building the museum's attendance, collections and endowment.

"This is the premiere museum that it is today largely due to the vision of Evan Maurer," Bell said.

For the past several years, Maurer has struggled with debilitating headaches and back problems. In September he had successful surgery for prostate cancer. He has had previous back surgery and is now receiving physical therapy.

He said he is working "to keep a smile on."

"I've got damaged discs and bones," he said. "It's a degenerative disease I've had all my life."

While Maurer has concealed his pain in public situations, it has been obvious behind the scenes. He has had to lie on the floor or kneel while conducting meetings. He was frequently absent, and the trustees named an interim management team last fall.

The retirement decision was difficult, Maurer said, because he has been committed to the Minneapolis museum for much of his career. Besides directing the institute since 1988, he was a curator there from 1971 to 1973 before moving into a curatorial post at the Art Institute of Chicago and then heading the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

Other highlights of his Minneapolis tenure include a popular show of Egyptian antiquities in 2003, important exhibits of American landscapes and British and French romantic-era paintings, and those of American Indian clothing and artifacts.

He also staged shows of "Star Wars" memorabilia and custom-made guns that had populist overtones but drew criticism from some as being out of place in an art museum.

Maurer's contract runs for another 18 months but he will have "no further obligations to the MIA" after his resignation, Bell said.

The trustees have named him director emeritus in recognition of his unique impact on the institution and the museum's board of directors plans a national search for a new director.

Last fall, Asian art curator Robert Jacobsen was named acting associate director of collections and exhibitions, while Pat Grazzini, the associate director and chief operating officer, continued overseeing finances and administrative tasks.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)