Mia is Community

When the museum reopened last summer, after closing for several months to slow the spread of Covid-19, Sandra Pietron was the first visitor through the doors. And when the museum reopened again this winter, after closing over the holidays, she was again the first in line. “I’m a morning person,” she says, shrugging. But she is also a Mia person, devoted to a place she calls “her temple.”

To be back in the museum, she says, was “a restoration of feeling enlightened. I was missing my temple of contemplation.” Pietron grew up in North Dakota and discovered Mia when she moved to Minnesota, in 1967. It was the first museum she had ever visited. “My early response was awe,” she says. She now lives in St. Paul and began volunteering in 2012, after a long career as a flight attendant. Travel had instilled a curiosity about the world and its cultures, and at Mia she could travel through art.

On her first day as a volunteer, during the popular exhibition of terracotta warriors from China, she noticed an elderly woman who appeared to need help—a well-known

donor, as it turned out. Pietron accompanied her to a lecture, and afterward Pietron drove her to a teahouse where she was hosting a contingent of visiting Chinese scholars. She asked Pietron to stay for dinner. “She called it an auspicious occasion,” Pietron says. “It was for both of us.”

For a long time, Pietron has compiled a list of exhibitions—her “personal shopping list” of things to see, she says—which is now shared with fellow volunteers and front-of-house staff. This is her community, and to return to it was in some ways to return to life. “I know all the faces, the people at the front desk,” she says. “It felt good and reassuring to see them.”

Stepping inside last summer, after so many months away, she noticed Katie Luber, Mia’s Nivin and Duncan MacMillan Director and President, standing atop the stairs. Greeting the first wave of visitors. “I’ll never forget this,” Pietron says. “Dr. Luber folded her hands and bowed to us. It was so powerful. A sign of welcome and respect.”