FREE SPEECH ZONE | May is Museum Month in Minnesota


Minnesotans are museum enthusiasts – so much so we will be celebrating May 2012 as Minnesota Museums Month. – the first in the nation, it is said.  And we will be hosting thousands of museum professionals and supporters at the American Association of Museums annual conference meeting in the Twin Cities April 29-May 1.

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For the most part, Minnesotans know about and often have visited the Minnesota Institute of Art and the Walker, the Science Museum, the History Center, the Weisman and the Goldstein Museum of Design on the St. Paul Campus of the University of Minnesota.  Lin Nelson-Mayson, director of the Goldstein, chairs the Minnesota Association of Museums, the organization spearheading the Minnesota Museums Month initiative. 

According to the Minnesota Association of Museums, Minnesota has 600 museums with an economic impact of more than $300 million annually.

So what and where are these 600 centers of interest?  For starts, 55 are in the Twin Cities.  We know the majors, but have you visited the Firefighters Museum in Northeast Minneapolis, or the new African American Museum and Cultural Center in South Minneapolis,  the Bakken Museum near Lake Calhoun or the Model Railroad Museum at Bandana Square in St. Paul.

What of the other 544 museums  outside the metro area?  The Minnesota Department of Tourism offers a great overview of science, arts, historic, environmental and every conceivable museum site.  Consider a trip to the Northwest Company Fur Post in Pine City or the National monuments at Pipestone and Grand Portage or the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Museum in Alexandria.  And there are still 538 others.

New York Times writer Carol Kino sets the historical context for the rich heritage of Minnesota museums. 

It started with the Minnesota Historical in St Paul, founded in 1849, when Minnesota was still a territory.  In1872, the legislature established the state’s first science museum in Minneapolis, now known as the James Ford Bell Museum of Natural History (Coincidentally, it is named for the grandfather of Ford Bell, the current president of the American Association of Museums.)

In 1879, the Walker Art Gallery opened – the first art museum west of the Mississippi founded by the lumber magnate Thomas Barlow Walker in his own home.  In 1940 it was re-established as the Walker Art Center, a community art center run by the Works Project Administration.  The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, today one of America’s major encyclopedia museums, opened its doors in 1915.

Her article goes on to describe he range of museum options – from the William & Joan Soderlund Pharmacy Museum in St. Peter to the Spam Museum in Austin to the several museums devoted to the history of Native Americans in the region.

There are numerous initiatives surrounding Minnesota Museums Month —  special museum sections in the press, an expanded Explore Minnesota site and public television programming.  Keep an eagle eye on the Minnesota Museums Month website as it grows and follows developments.

Most of all, take time to visit one of the hundreds of museums you may have somehow missed.  Explore Minnesota – including Minnesota’s incomparable heritage of museums.