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North Dakota Museum of Art receives $750,000 Grant From Mellon Foundation

GRAND FORKS – The North Dakota Museum of Art has received a three-year, $750,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation, the museum’s director, Matthew Wallace, has announced.

This is the first grant the museum has received from the New York-based foundation, Wallace said.

These funds will allow the museum to hire the museum’s first designated curator, who will oversee a collection of about 2,500 works. The curator also will plan exhibitions, programs and special research projects.

The funds also will provide support for improved collections care at the museum’s new storage facility, a local facility the 12-member board of trustees has purchased. The museum rents a storage space in Grand Forks that it plans to vacate; it will move the holdings to the new facility within the next few weeks, Wallace said.

Over the years, the museum’s art collection had grown to the point where there was a shortage of proper storage and equipment to house the numerous paintings, sculptures and prints tucked away in off-site storage facilities.

About three years ago, the board began to look seriously at the benefits of buying versus renting storage space, Wallace said. With the board’s approval, the decision was made to purchase a facility to house the entire collection under one roof for years to come. It will also provide space for the collection to expand in the future, Wallace said. For security purposes, he declined to say where the facility is located. (A sculpture was stolen from the museum grounds, was missing for seven months and recently has been returned, repaired and reinstalled, with updated security measures, he said. “It looks brand new.”)

The purchase of the 3,600-square-foot storage facility was made possible by an unrestricted gift, totaling $724,000, given to the museum by a frequent visitor, Eleanor Baira, of Park River, North Dakota, who died in 2021. She and her husband were both accounting teachers at the University of Minnesota; after retirement, she returned to her hometown, Park River. For several years, she made frequent visits to the North Dakota Museum of Art, where strong friendships with staff members blossomed, Wallace said.

Half of the gift amount Baira provided has been used for the purchase of the storage facility and half to help the museum pay staff members’ salaries during the COVID pandemic, when general operating funds were drying up. The shortage of revenue came about when the museum was forced to close for about a year and a half, effectively canceling numerous revenue-generation events and programs.

The gift from Baira, “truly, it’s a lifesaver,” Wallace said. “We were really at a point where we’d have to make decisions about what we were going to collect.”

The funds will permit the museum “to create a 10-year plan, if not a 15-year plan” for the development of its collection, he said.

Having purchased the modern storage facility, the Mellon Foundation grant now gives the museum the means to procure the needed equipment to properly store the collection; hire qualified individuals to move and reorganize the artwork into the new facility; install security and temperature-control devices; and purchase special archival storage material, Wallace said.

“There were many moving parts that had to come together to make this happen,” he said. “First, Founding Director Laurel Retuer built the foundation of a world-class collection with the best artists from across the globe; Eleanor included the museum in her will, which allowed for the purchase of the new facility; and the Mellon Foundation awarded the funds necessary to purchase equipment to properly store the collection and safely move it, and to hire a curator to care for it, for generations to enjoy and learn from.”

Source : Grand Forks Herald