Embracing Uncertainty: Adapting to Change through the Power of Art

Executive Summary

For more than a hundred years, Mia has been a source of inspiration and creativity in the Upper Midwest, growing along with the region. Now it faces an unprecedented challenge: recovering from the blows sustained throughout the Covid-19 pandemic while ensuring a future of inclusion, excellence, and financial sustainability.

To reclaim the large, committed audience lost to the pandemic and its corollary aftershocks, this plan’s strategies are largely focused on better understanding our audience. Audience and attendance are not synonymous. But by nurturing and growing Mia’s audience, we aim to revive and reclaim the robust attendance numbers that have been a hallmark of Mia’s success. Going forward, success will be achieved when Mia again meets or exceeds pre-pandemic attendance levels.

Our goals of inclusion, excellence, and financial sustainability must be in dynamic balance, as the future of Mia depends on all three. Indeed, these same goals are being considered as part of a parallel review of how Mia’s campus itself serves the public—they cannot be accomplished without caring for Mia’s physical plant.

As the museum continues to learn and interpret how Covid impacts the way we do business, we cannot assume that the strategies of the past will be viable options in the future. But there is an upside to uncertainty. We have an opportunity to renew our commitment to our mission with fresh and flexible approaches. This plan itself is a living document that can and will change with new information and new ideas.

However we adapt, even if little is currently predictable, we will do so through the power of art, as one fact is unlikely to change: People will continue to make and respond to art in profound and meaningful ways.


It is an understatement to say the last two years have been challenging for Mia. The pandemic devastated participation in public life, traumatizing the country’s collective psyche and dealing an enormous blow to Mia’s long-term viability through the loss of attendance.

Museum attendance had grown dramatically in the years following the celebration of Mia’s 100th anniversary, in 2015. The pandemic decimated those gains, and attendance now remains at less than 50 percent of its pre-pandemic high. Of course, attendance and audience are different, and Mia’s relationship with its audience remains strong. Nurturing that relationship by better understanding our audience—their demographics, their motivations, their willingness to engage with public life—is key to rebuilding attendance.

Growing attendance is not just a visible demonstration of our impact and our success in connecting with audiences. It’s also an economic imperative, supporting the diversification of revenue sources and solidifying support across the community—including public funding.

This is the opportunity before us. In gathering around the broadest representation of human experience through the lens of art, Mia can help its audience and by extension its communities and region. It can help them recover from the pain of the pandemic and longstanding systemic racial inequities through deep human connection, with all of its pluralistic differences.

The Endurance Plan, written in late 2020, helped guide the museum through the worst days of the pandemic. That plan focused on the essential values of the museum, including Mia’s fundamental, mission-driven work to serve increasingly diverse audiences with evermore global collections.

This plan is a new opportunity to think boldly and aspirationally about how to reclaim Mia’s audiences, and to serve them in a way that earns their loyalty and ensures their future engagement. It represents a philosophical shift from the survival principles of the Endurance Plan to a forward-thinking plan to ensure the longevity of the museum through a dynamic balance of inclusion, excellence, and sustainability in service to a changing community. It is a living document, flexible and adaptive to new ideas, new information, and new approaches.

The survival and long-term sustainability of our arts organizations is critical to the future of Minneapolis and St. Paul as viable, thriving communities. Robust cultural organizations generate civic pride and successful placemaking. They attract creative talent, fuel productivity and civic engagement, and strengthen the collective social fabric. Our city’s need for the arts is greater than ever, and it’s imperative that Mia leads in this period of rebuilding.

As Mia addresses the state of the community coming out of the height of the Covid pandemic and the ramifications of the murder of George Floyd, we must reignite enthusiasm for the arts, which serve as a catalyst for healing, discovery, and reflection. Mia will embrace this opportunity to make an outsized impact on the cultural, economic, environmental, and civic landscape of the Twin Cities and surrounding region, now and into the future.

“Arts and culture aren’t magic bullets, but they are strongly correlated with strong local economies.” —Richard Florida

As part of this rebuilding process, it is important to identify how Mia will bring back past audiences—and how it will attract new ones. Mia’s iterative learning nature will give the museum a solid footing as we seek to understand the depth of the pandemic’s impact on audience motivations and help identify strategies and tactics that will serve us far into the future. Mia will seek feedback from staff, visitors, community, trustees, and stakeholders throughout the course of this plan, incorporating new data, insights, and learning.

Mia’s objectives in examining, understanding, reclaiming, and growing our audience within the framing of this strategic plan are expressed through three aspirational goals:

These three goals are intertwined in a dynamic balance, as are the strategies and tactics that will allow Mia to perform at its peak. Each is aspirational, requiring sustained attention to improvement, revisioning, and refreshment in order to effectively attract audiences and reignite their nascent passions for art and art-focused programming. Together, they reflect the foundational bedrock of the museum but also the specific needs of the organization and the audiences it serves in this challenging time.

Our audiences’ expectations for inclusion have changed dramatically with the nation’s social justice and racial reckoning movements, encompassing what we collect and display, how we interpret those works of art, our public programs, and the composition of our staff, volunteers, and board. At the same time, the museum’s reputation as a trusted source of information and inspiration, solace and discovery, hinges on the excellence of its collection, related scholarly research, a willingness to address and consider new and previously neglected histories, and its role as the largest arts educator in the state. Of course, the museum’s ability to make accessible its world-class collections, quality exhibitions, and engaging programming depends on the financial health and sustainability of the organization. To successfully rebuild and grow Mia’s audience to pre-pandemic levels, it’s clear that these three components must together support and amplify the museum’s mission.

These same goals of inclusion, excellence, and sustainability are being considered as part of a new, comprehensive review of how Mia’s campus serves the public. The care of Mia’s physical plant is key to accomplishing all of the goals set out within this plan. Many of the issues identified in the 2018 master plan presented by David Chipperfield Architects remain current, including the need for expanded and improved office and storage spaces, refreshed galleries, updated infrastructure, and the best use of Mia’s ancillary properties.

However, much has changed in the years since that plan was presented. Mia has partnered with HGA architects to design a new Comprehensive Plan that builds upon and updates the findings of the 2018 plan while incorporating a more expansive view of Mia’s role in the community and its impact on the environment. It is a crucial component of this strategic plan’s focus on audience and is scheduled for a final presentation to Mia’s Board of Trustees at the end of 2022.


Mia must be boldly inclusive to adapt to an evolving landscape of audience and diminished attendance. Growing the museum’s attendance and audience will, by necessity, reflect the increased diversity of our communities. Understanding the audience will require Mia to reflect on who they are, what motivates them, and what they want from their experiences at the museum.

Mia will strive to be a place where everyone feels welcome, safe, and inspired to participate in the museum of today and tomorrow. As a beloved cultural institution in the community, Mia will lead by engaging with the issues of our times—the pandemic and social justice—and be a beacon of inclusion, offering connection, empathy, and joy to our visitors. Mia will leverage the power of art and storytelling to become one of the cultural spaces in the region where inclusion is experienced deeply. The next years will be a crucible of learning for Mia, its staff, volunteers, and board. Mia’s work of inclusion will be based in an approach of co-creation and innovation, inviting people both inside and outside the museum to help shape our ongoing efforts and implementation.

Build and engage with community: Work to build a more inclusive environment at the museum, diversifying staff, volunteers, board, and visitors to reflect the multicultural nature of our community.
– Create opportunities that attract new audiences from neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul and from cities and suburbs of Hennepin County.
– Assess and remove barriers to accessibility in the museum experience (from type size on labels to increased seating).
– Continue to build a robust and diverse volunteer corps to serve as ambassadors to our audiences.
– Co-create, with staff and volunteer input, a workplace culture of inclusion through reflection, learning, and programming.
– Support staff through strategic opportunities for skills enhancement, inclusive leadership training, and personal growth.
– Review and align Mia’s hiring strategies with best practices.
– Benchmark current and annual progress with demographic analysis.
– Review and share Mia’s ongoing progress on its inclusion efforts.

Identify and connect with strategic partners to extend the reach of Mia programs and offerings into the communities served.
– Identify and operationalize strategic, mutually beneficial partnerships with educational organizations and community partners to increase the diversity of the audience Mia
– serves and extend the reach of Mia’s learning mission.
– Create opportunities for youth to experience art in the broadest and most inclusive way possible by working with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board and its partners.
– Work with school districts and community artists to provide enriching opportunities for inclusive learning.
– Create an environment that fosters connection, empathy, and joy for all audiences.

Use Mia’s encyclopedic collection to inclusively engage diverse audiences with art from global cultures in multi-channel ways.
– Identify and deliver opportunities for inclusive engagement across platforms.
– Partner with universities and other educational institutions to provide access to Mia’s collection.
– Create programs that recognize significant cultural anniversaries and events in the community.

Harness Mia’s agile and iterative nature to study how to increase diversity and inclusion of Mia’s internal and external audiences over the coming years; at the same time, work to reclaim lost audiences and make Mia enticing for those who may have felt excluded in the past.
– Understand the rapidly shifting nature of Mia’s audience through iterative demographic study.
– Investigate what audiences want from Mia with a variety of methods, including surveys, focus groups, and interviews.
– Identify ways to engage with audiences at different levels of interest and participation.
– Identify audiences that Mia may have lost in the last few years, and specifically design ways to attract diverse audiences who may have felt excluded.
– Utilize insights of data analytic department to inform Mia’s understanding of audience behavior and guide decision-making about resource utilization in response to that data.


Though definitions of quality and excellence have evolved and changed over the decades, Mia’s commitment to providing visitors with the best possible art museum experience has remained sacrosanct. Even before the museum opened its doors in 1915, its founders were committed to assembling a collection of outstanding works of art from the world’s diverse cultures for the enjoyment and edification of the people of Minnesota. When the time came to build a museum, they enlisted the services of one of the nation’s top architectural firms, McKim, Mead & White, to design an inspiring setting for the growing collection.

In recent decades, Mia has adopted best practices to facilitate discovery and learning in its galleries and through its public programs. Mia remains committed to excellence in all its endeavors, from the art we collect and the galleries in which it is displayed, to the facilities and amenities available to our visitors. This standard also informs Mia’s outward-facing special exhibitions and public programming, as well as an inward-facing commitment to training and nurturing the museum’s staff and volunteers so that they are fully equipped to meaningfully participate in achieving the museum’s ambitious goals.

Develop leadership opportunities for all Mia staff and volunteers to ensure they are leaders in the museum field and highly effective in ensuring the best visitor experience.
– Invest in staff and volunteer enrichment to cultivate a skilled, knowledgeable, inspired, and engaged workforce capable of ensuring that Mia is at the forefront of the most
effective museum practices.
– Center goals for all staff with an evergreen set of leadership qualities: alignment, caring, audience engagement, critical thinking, entrepreneurial leadership, and being a collaborative and principled colleague.
– Serve as an inclusive training space for future museum professionals.

Make Mia a “must see” museum by re-focusing the permanent collection.
– Improve the visitor experience and heighten Mia’s reputation by only acquiring works of the highest quality. Embrace the notion that more is not necessarily better. Replace quantity with quality.
– Identify gaps in Mia’s holdings and focus on strategic acquisitions in these areas.
– Continuously review Mia’s collection to ensure that works acquired throughout the museum’s history measure up to today’s high standards. Deaccession as warranted.
– Present innovative, thoughtful and beautiful installations of the permanent collection.
– Provide thoughtful and thought-provoking interpretations of works of art in dynamic rotations of the permanent collection that pair known treasures with new interpretations.

Renovate, improve, and judiciously expand the museum experience so that Mia’s galleries, public spaces, and amenities are broadly inclusive and provide visitors with inspiring, authentic, enjoyable, and memorable experiences.
– Redesign and reinstall the museum’s galleries so that the visitor experience is reflective of the concerns and aspirations of our times.
– Question historic installations that privilege some cultures over others and perpetuate a canon that is no longer reflective of today’s pluralistic society by foregrounding previously untold narratives.
– Embrace alternative expertise and points-of-view by consulting and incorporating non-traditional “voices” in the planning and articulation of written and electronic didactic programs.
– Deconstruct traditional geopolitical silos by demonstrating cultural contributions to global development through artistic exchange, including technology, technique, style, and iconography, among others.
– Redesign and optimize the museum’s galleries, considering the impact of space, color, light, complexity/simplicity, pacing, wayfinding, and comfort on the visitor experience.
– Incorporate flexible interstitial spaces for thematic and topical installations.
– Invest in public museum spaces to make sure that visitor experiences are excellent in both art and non-art spaces.
– Invest in new technologies for onsite digital visitor experiences, both content driven and wayfinding.
– Ensure visitor amenities and infrastructure facilitate a fully inclusive museum experience.

Reassert Mia’s educational role as being core to its mission, and that the objects in the museum’s collection are powerful tools for exploring and learning about cultures and ideas.
– Maintain Mia’s commitment to intellectual and scholastic rigor, informed by and enriched through many cultural viewpoints.
– Reinforce that the educational goals of the museum are the responsibility of all staff and volunteers, led by subject matter experts but championed by all.
– Demonstrate Mia’s commitment to sharing knowledge with all audiences, from school children to adults, fostering lifelong learning among people of all ages and backgrounds, at all levels of capability, mastery and interest.
– Acknowledge that everyone learns differently, and offer a variety of tools and experiences for different learning modalities, including lectures, classes, digital resources, printed didactics, hands-on experiences, and tours.
– Support independent exploration of the collection: offer information and interpretation while also facilitating opportunities for curiosity via self-guided discovery, healing, reflection, and contemplation.
– Commit to being transparent to the public about the nature of research and its important role in collecting, interpreting, publishing, and exhibiting works of art, while also acknowledging the museum’s past as the prologue for the future.

Capitalize on the fact that special exhibitions are the museum’s most powerful tool for driving attendance, offering unique experiences and generating a sense of urgency as renowned works are brought to the Twin Cities for limited engagements.
– Resurrect Mia’s exhibition program with shows of broad appeal and intellectual substance, including engagement of high-profile partners.
– Develop the exhibition calendar five years into the future to capitalize on potential partnerships/venues, grant, and fundraising opportunities.
– Ensure a healthy combination of borrowed and self-generated exhibitions.
– Confirm that Mia’s exhibition mix reflects the interests of our increasingly diverse audiences.
– Ensure that Mia’s staging of its special exhibitions appeals to a variety of visitor motivations (e.g., skim/swim/dive).
– Capitalize on opportunities to strengthen the exhibition program through quid pro quo arrangements and unique circumstances that allow for loans from notable collections.

Utilize data strategies and insights to understand and appreciate our audience, guide decision making, and allocate resources that impact audience development and growth.
– Commit to delivering visitor experiences that are shaped by audience research and evaluation with data that is clean, correct, and ethically collected and stored.
– Establish benchmarks for key performance indicators (KPIs) around audience demographics, motivations, and growth as well as measures of success for visitor experience, and then create clear timelines of measurement and reporting.
– Advocate for users (internal and external) and put them at the center of solutions.
– Create an environment in which Mia staff feel empowered by data to ask questions and find answers, through making data accessible and centralized and integrating research and reporting into institutional workflows.
– Connect data across departments and divisions in order to contextualize realities and identify opportunities (through reporting and dashboarding, centralized data storage, cross-functional teams, consultant recommendations, etc.).
– Seek out local, regional, and national opportunities for partnership and leadership.


Everything the museum does depends on the health of our finances and our facilities. To serve our audiences, realize our mission, and fulfill the aspirations of this plan, we must build on Mia’s long history of sound financial management and fundraising, collectively making the decisions necessary to sustain the museum in perpetuity. We will build sustainability through a focus on growth in audience, increased revenues, strong financial management, and both a short- and long-term approach to the maintenance of our facilities. We will commit to core principles across the museum’s departments, including strong financial controls, efficient operational practices, and the use of KPIs, metrics, and data to support decision-making.

We also recognize the impact that our facilities and operations have on the environment. Between our Comprehensive Plan and the goals outlined here for rebuilding in the wake of Covid, we have an opportunity to make a positive difference now that can improve our resilience to climate change in the future. By operating efficiently and decreasing emissions, we are contributing to a safe and secure future both for our collection and our community.

Enhance financial sustainability through increased attendance.
– Leverage Mia’s exhibition program to amplify the museum’s reach and maximize attendance, and re-engage with audience through added investment in special exhibitions and marketing strategies.
– Utilize Mia’s Brand Filter to optimize content in support of the collection and exhibitions (accessible, value-added, authentic, relevant, aligned with audience).
– Improve understanding and use of key performance indicators (KPIs), metrics, and data on audience and engagement initiatives to support current decision making, future planning, and best allocation of resources.

Ensure financial sustainability for Mia’s short- and long-term needs.
– Grow Mia’s endowment for operations through new endowment gifts and strong investment management.
– Diversify annual revenue sources to mitigate risk and maximize opportunities
– Implement impact investing strategy that aligns with Mia’s values.
– Build a robust culture of philanthropy that reaches out to and includes Mia’s entire audience, community, board, and staff, and supports growth of contributed revenue.
– Carefully manage expense growth to align available resources with strategic goals and fundamental work.
– Reaffirm that Mia will not monetize the collection nor increase its endowment draw spending policy to support operating expenses.

Deliver a comprehensive plan for Mia’s facility and campus that serves and sustains the community, the museum, and the collection.
– Develop a framework and timeline/phasing plans for short- and long-term facility needs, including gallery renovations, storage solutions, critical MEPF needs.
– Develop a realistic and implementable financial and fundraising approach to support outcomes of the comprehensive plan and physical/capital needs.
– Create and implement messaging that clearly communicates the outcomes and findings of the comprehensive plan for neighborhood and public support and engages the community and key stakeholders.
– Commit to environmental sustainability, build on existing initiatives, and launch new initiatives that reduce Mia’s ecological footprint to become a museum leader in climate change action.
– Identify the potential impacts of projected climate hazards and identify strategies for improved resilience.
– Implement initiatives to ensure safety and security of collection on view and in storage, including opportunities for improved and broader conservation services at the museum.
– Engage the community and our audiences to create initiatives that ensure community safety and a more welcoming and inclusive presence.

Improve information technology, application, and information systems strategies across the museum.
– Standardize and centralize strategic leadership of information systems administration, implementation, and support.
– Right-size and appropriately resource Information Systems department.
– Collaboratively manage enterprise software systems as broadly and efficiently as possible to provide support for all users across divisions and departments.
– Define and implement best practices for data and information management and retention across departments.


This plan will guide Mia for the next two years—longer, if necessary—as Mia tracks the progress and resolution of the pandemic and its aftereffects on the museum. The first year will be dedicated to learning, through research and feedback, about the changing composition and motivations of Mia’s audiences. Key figures in that process will be Mia’s most dedicated and loyal audience members: staff, trustees, and volunteers.

Mia will monitor the following metrics to track accountability and plan progress:

– Steadily increase overall visitorship each year, with the aspiration of achieving one million on-site visits annually
– Analyze specific programs and events to ensure effective return on investment for the museum’s resources and mission
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
– Visitor, board, volunteer Demographics
– Hiring Goals and Staff Composition
– Collection Demographics of New Acquisitions
Endowment Growth
– Secure $35 million in new gift commitments, which will contribute an additional $1.75 million to the operating budget annually.
Membership, Giving, and Loyalty
– Increase membership retention, with a particular focus on member engagement in the first year of membership
– Grow the number of contributing member households (to 14,000 in year one)
– Create a baseline and track growth in the percentage of households that increase their giving over 3 years
– Create a baseline and track growth in estate commitments from contributing members
Campus: Buildings & Grounds
– Create baseline metrics to measure carbon footprint and the reduction of energy use
– Incorporate deliverables based on outcomes and timing of comprehensive plan
– Develop a thorough financial plan that includes private philanthropy, public support, and other sources to address resources required for phase 1 of the comprehensive plan, as identified in fall 2022

With its thoughtful and iterative mindset around problem solving, Mia stands for agile and dynamic action. As the museum learns and interprets how Covid will continue to impact the way we do business, we cannot assume that the successful strategies of the past will be viable options in the future. Little is currently predictable, except for the fact that people respond to art and artistic production in profound and meaningful ways. The museum will remain agile and inquiry-driven as we find the best way forward in this new post-Covid environment. When we meet or exceed pre-pandemic attendance levels, we will know we have been successful in our efforts to understand our audiences, what motivates them to visit, and how we can best serve them.

Attendance, however, is just one measure of success. Reaching ever broader and more diverse audiences, who delight in seeing their own cultures reflected in the museum’s collections and programming, is paramount. Achieving greater financial strength will also be a marker of this plan’s success as it ensures we will be able to sustain and nurture our relationships with the community and broader audiences as never before.

Of course, this great work depends on the concerted efforts of many, and so success will also be measured by the degree to which we are able to create an aligned culture of leadership at Mia, in which every staff member, volunteer, and board member feels as though their actions have a positive impact on the museum’s mission, our community, and the larger region we serve.