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Friends History

The Friends mission shall be to broaden the influence of the Institute throughout the community by supporting its activities and forwarding its interests in ways suggested or approved by the Trustees of The Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

 —Founding Statement, 1922

Friends of the Institute was founded in 1922 in memory of Ethel Morrison Van Derlip, whose extraordinary efforts to promote the arts inspired her friends. The new organization’s membership was unlimited. The Friends did not want to give the impression of being a select group, so membership at the time was open to any woman who desired to belong. Dues were $2, and by October of that first year, there were 110 members.

Since then, more than a thousand dedicated men and women have significantly contributed to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts through the Friends volunteer service, financial support, and goodwill throughout the community. In the early years the Friends provided funds for museum improvements and acquisitions for the permanent collection. Eventually office space was created within the museum in which to organize events, raise funds, and conduct tours. The Friends continue to administer and endow Friends Funds to support valuable museum programs.

The museum’s distinguished docent program, now led by museum staff, developed out of these earlier efforts, as did other fundamental museum services. For example, during the mid-1950s, museum Trustees invited the Friends to manage a sales desk. For many years, Friends volunteers also operated the Museum Shop and Visitor and Member Services desk.

Next time you’re in the museum, take a look around. Nearly everything you see has somehow been influenced by the Friends.

Friends in Rochester and St. Cloud began affiliation in the 1980s and actively attend Thursday lectures. They also sponsor special programs and events in both cities.



1921 Ethel Morrison Van Derlip, first “Friend of the Institute,” dies. Ethel was the granddaughter of Dorilus Morrison, the first mayor of Minneapolis, whose home stood on this site, and the daughter of Clinton Morrison, who gave this land to what would become the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

1922 The first official meeting of the Friends is held on January 21.

1924 The Friends purchase an 18th-century cherry highboy.
The Friends furnish a new American Period Room with funds raised by hosting art lectures.


The Friends provide $5,090 for new carved walnut doors and walnut benches in the Fountain Court.

1935 The Friends generate a new fund-raiser, “The Work Opportunity Sale,” an upscale garage sale. One sale has 4,000 people waiting in line to enter. Proceeds are used to remodel galleries and lower the ceiling in the second-floor central gallery.


The Friends are called upon to help pay MIA staff salaries. Also, the Friends-sponsored “Thorne Miniature Rooms” exhibition is a success.

1946 The Friends symbol—two interlocking rings—is designed, based on an ancient Chinese jade token of eternal friendship given to the Institute by Alfred Pillsbury.

The interlocking rings represent our association with the Institute and our friendship for each other.

1948 The Friends renovate the Fireplace Room, where Friends gather to plan many other construction projects, including refurbishing the auditorium and Sculpture Court and creating a new library and Museum Shop.


The Friends partner with Dayton’s to begin what would become their longest-running event, a fashion show. The first show nets $3,000, with expenses of $17.75.

The retirement of Russell Plimpton, longtime director of the MIA, is a grand affair.


The Friends assume management of the Museum Shop.

The Friends launch the docent program.

The Friends speakers’ bureau debuts to spread the word about the MIA.


Due to renovations, the Museum Shop moves downtown, only to return later. Guaranty Fund solicitors of the Friends raise $150,000.

The Friends fund the “Victorian High Renaissance” exhibition, one of its largest gifts.


1983 The Friends hold their first Art in Bloom, inspired by a similar event at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

1983 The Friends fund a $50,000 purchase and exhibition of the Gaudy vase.

1995 The Friends co-sponsor the 1995 Richard Avedon show.

1996 The Friends celebrate their 75th anniversary, which includes a cake walk supported by local bakers.

The anniversary celebration culminates in a significant Friends gift: the renovation and seasonal reopening of the 24th Street entrance.

1996 The Friends purchase the Hope table, a library table designed by Thomas Hope in 1800.

Art in Bloom draws more than 22,000 visitors to the MIA and raises hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The Friends’ Transportation Fund brings 2,000 to 3,000 inner-city school children to the museum for arts education.

1999 The Friends purchase a rare sandstone panel from India for the permanent collection.


2001 The Friends open the Gallery of Tea Ceremony Arts, their largest gift to date.

2004 Art Perchance, an event built around artful games with prizes of donated art, debuts to great results.

The Friends commit $500,000 to the new building expansion capital campaign.

2006 The Michael Graves addition opens and the new Friends Community Room is named.

2007 Friends purchase an eighteenth-century pastel landscape by Élisabeth Vigée-LeBrun for the permanent collection.

The Friends co-sponsor the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition.

The Children’s Fund is launched.

2008  The 25th anniversary of Art in Bloom.

2012  Friends celebrate their 90th birthday with cupcakes and sherry, reminiscent of past traditions.

Funds are given to restore Andre Bergondi’s Saint Paul the Hermit, 1772.

Friends acquire Chiho Aoshima’s video installation, City Glow, 2005.

2014 In celebration of the MIA’s centennial Birthday Year, Friends give $500,000.