Center for Empathy and the Visual Arts
Mia is collaborating with museum colleagues as well as social scientists, artists, educators, and others to research and explore practices for fostering empathy and global understanding through the power of art and to share these findings with the field.
In our increasingly divisive world, polarized by issues regarding politics, racial inequities, marriage equality, global warming, income disparities, and immigration policies, it becomes clear that our failures to understand other people’s feelings are exacerbating prejudice, conflict, and inequality. If we wish to develop not only a more equal society but a happier and more creative one, we will need to look outside ourselves and attempt to identify with the experiences of others. This critical skill is called empathy, which, according to Roman Krznaric, an expert on empathy, “has the power to transform relationships, from the personal to the political, and create fundamental social change.”
Art museums, with their collections filled with stories of humanity from across the globe, are well-positioned to play a vital role in helping people understand each other. Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia) champions the power of art—and the responsibility of art museums—to spark curiosity and creativity, connect people across cultural differences, and engage our individual and shared values.
Research & Resources
To learn more about the research goals and origins of the Center for Empathy and Visual Arts, read our white paper.
Check out our experts’ recommended reading list on all things empathy and the visual arts.
From the Field
Explore toolkits, curricula, and examples from other cultural institutions working with empathy here.
Vogel, Maria. “‘Elevating the Voices of Non-Art World Folk Is Integral to Expanding Our Impact’: Curator Karleen Gardner On What It’s Like to Run the Empathy Center at the Minneapolis Institute of Art” Artnet News. Mar. 2021
Self-Care through Art
Close Looking and Drawing Exercise
Empathy and compassion are crucial as we care for others. And self-care is just as important. Art can be a powerful tool for helping us connect with and mediate our own emotions and feelings. Here you can engage in close looking and a drawing exercise inspired by a painting from Mia’s collection by Yayoi Kusama. Also, be inspired by optimistic words of hope and resilience from the artist herself.
In the Presence of Our Ancestors: Southern Perspectives in African American Art"
In the Presence of Our Ancestors: Southern Perspectives in African American Art” brings together methods of visual storytelling and ancestral memory through the individual practices of artists from the “Black Belt” region of the American South—a term that refers to the region’s black soil, as well as the legacies of African Americans who shaped its social and agrarian culture.
Freedom Rising: I am the Story/L'Merchie Frazier
L’Merchie Frazier is a fiber artist, quilter, historian, innovator, poet, and holographer. According to Frazier, “This exhibition continues my work and conversations, concerned with equity and justice, called The Quilted Chronicles and its Target Series. It examines the lives and legacies of African-descended people, including children and their communities across centuries of memory, places, and activism.”
Supernatural America: The Paranormal in American Art
Through times of mourning and trauma, artists have been integral to visualizing ghosts, whether national or personal, and in doing so have embraced the mysterious and the inexplicable. This exhibition explores the numerous ways that artists in the United States have made sense of their own experiences of the paranormal and the supernatural, developing a rich visual culture of the intangible.
Envisioning Evil: The Nazi Drawings by Mauricio Lacanszky
In 1961, coinciding with the televised trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, Mauricio Lasansky began a series of drawings to grapple with the Holocaust. Confronted with the atrocities, he said, “I was full of hate, poison, and I wanted to spit it out.” This exhibition of his Nazi Drawings series shows his visceral response to the horrors committed in Nazi concentration camps.
Vision 2020: Jess T. Dugan
Jess T. Dugan’s series “To Survive on This Shore: Photographs and Interviews with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Older Adults,” a project produced in collaboration with Dugan’s partner, Vanessa Fabbre. Recognizing the dearth of complex, human-centered storytelling about the lives of transgender and gender-expansive older adults.
Mapping Black Identitites
Taking inspiration from Mia’s recent acquisition of Frank Bowling’s map painting False Start (1970), “Mapping Black Identities” challenges the notion of Black identity as monolithic.
Perhaps no other subject has been so well documented as the lives of children. This is an exhibition of photographs of and by children, teens, and young adults, organized in partnership with middle and high school students.
Jonathan Herrera Soto: In Between / Underneath (Entremedio / Por Debajo)
Jonathan Herrera Soto will create a new rendition of his installation “In Between / Underneath (Entremedio / Por Debajo).” The work will depict recently murdered and missing Mexican journalists, highlighting the record number of journalists killed.
Hearts of Our People
Women have long been the creative force behind Native art. Presented in close cooperation with top Native women artists and scholars, this first major exhibition of artwork by Native women honors the achievements of over 115 artists from the United States and Canada spanning over 1,000 years.
Art and Healing: In the Moment June 17, 2018 - July 29, 2018
Art and Healing: In the Moment is an exhibition of artwork made by community artists in response to the fatal shooting of Philando Castile.
Castile was an African-American man who grew up in Saint Paul. On July 6, 2016, he was fatally shot by a police officer in the nearby town of Falcon Heights after being pulled over for a traffic stop. He was 32 years old.
The Many Voices of Colonial America
The Charleston Dining and Drawing Rooms came from the 1772 home of Col. John Stuart, who served as Superintendent of Indian Affairs for Britain’s southern colonies and was also an owner of enslaved Africans.
Martin Luther: Art and the Reformation
Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther ripped the fabric of European life by standing in open opposition to the most powerful men of his age. “Martin Luther : Art and the Reformation” examines his life and influence through the lens of artistic creation.