Saturday, June 23, 2018
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New Man at MIA
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Bill Griswold is the new director of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. He comes most recently from the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, where he served as interim director, and, previously, chief curator. (MPR Photo/Marianne Combs)
The Minneapolis Institute of Arts named Bill Griswold as its new director Thursday. He replaces the MIA's former director Evan Maurer, and admits he has some pretty big shoes to fill.

Minneapolis, Minn. — For the past several years, Bill Griswold has worked for the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, most recently as its interim director and chief curator. Griswold applied for the Getty directorship, but withdrew because he thought the museum had too broad a mission.

"I was interested in being a part of an institution that is focussed exclusively on the presentation of a great collection to a broad public," he said.

Griswold says he was attracted to the MIA's encyclopedic collections, and the fact that it was part of a vibrant community. The MIA is just one of several cultural institutions in the Twin Cities that are currently expanding their homes and their programming. Last fall the MIA opened seven new Chinese galleries, and this past month installed a new French period room.

"This is extraordinarily exciting moment in the history of the MIA and under strong leadership this is an opportunity for the institute to become even more of a presence nationally and internationally," Griswold said.

The MIA's board of trustees has been searching for a new director for the past five months, ever since Evan Maurer stepped down due to health concerns. Maurer's 16-year tenure at the museum spurred a surge in both attendance and financial support. He presided over two major building expansions.

Maurer will likely be best remembered for eliminating the price of admission for almost all of the MIA's exhibitions. The pressure was on to find a new director that could come even close to approaching Maurer's energy and dynamism.

Al Harrison has been a trustee with the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for twenty years, and as of today he's the board's new chair. He says all of the candidates for the directorship had excellent credentials. But Griswold had something else.

"If I may use that expression, 'fire in the belly,'" Harrison said. "Obviously, we all know of his scholarship and so on but I think that in many respects this job is a very broad one, everything from the arts side over to the financial side. It's very important that somebody come at it with vigor and enthusiasm."

At 44, Griswold is a relatively young hire for the position of museum director. He has a few years of administrative experience through his work at the Getty. But most of his career has been spent curating art, not managing an institution. Fundraising will certainly be a major part of Griswold's new job.

Griswold says he's eager to expand the MIA's collections. Andrea Rich, director of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, says museum directors face a financial balancing act.

"There's a conundrum for the director who has to both serve the scholarly interests of the art world and has to find ways to bring in resources that will help turn out the lights, hire the guards, and pay for the insurance," Rich said.

Still Griswold seems braced for the new job.

"I bring, I like to think, great passion to this position," Griswold said. "A passion for works of art and for making those works of art available to the community and I'm confident that we can build an institution that is both fiscally sound and will continue to make great strides in areas of collection, exhibition and education."

Griswold says his predecessor Evan Maurer did a remarkable thing when he eliminated the price of admission to the MIA, and thereby making it available to a much broader population. Griswold says there's still a great deal that can be done to sustain and enhance that.

"In my view there's not a museum or a library or a school or a university or a community or faith group in this city with whom we should not be working closely," he said. "And I look forward to meeting with the leaders of those groups and talking about ways that we can cooperate and collaborate and do exciting work together and thus bring even more people to the Minneapolis Institute."

And with that, new MIA director Bill Griswold prepared to head off for lunch with his predecessor. Griswold says he plans to consult Maurer regularly as settles into his new job. He begins his new job October 1st.

You can learn more about the new MIA director and ask him your own questions tomorrow at 10 when he will be Kerri Miller's guest on Midmorning.