Lifetime art lover and popular former KMSP-TV Fox 9 news anchor Robyne Robinson was recently named chair of the board of directors for the Minnesota Museum of American Art. She is the first African American to hold the position. Her most recent position was as an art director at the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport where she spearheaded a broad public arts program.
In a previous interview with Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, Robinson admitted that when she was first approached for the post at the museum, she wasn’t overly thrilled about it. “It was this staid institution of money and White male dominance,” she said.
Her mind changed over time. “I listened to what Executive Director Kristin Makholm was saying; I started to see a few faces of color come onto the board. It started to hit home that this was really a conscious little museum and I wanted to take part in it.”
Robinson, who also continues to run the company she founded, fivexfive, came to admire the museum’s scrappy backstory, having reinvented itself multiple times.
Known colloquially as The M, the museum has had a tumultuous history since its founding in 1894 as the St. Paul School of Fine Arts. After several iterations, it was finally named the Minnesota Museum of American Art in 1992.
The museum shuttered its doors in 2009, maintaining offices and doing traveling exhibitions for the next few years. It reopened in a permanent space in December 2018. “That it’s come back and risen from the ashes was really compelling to me,” said Robinson.
Robinson hinted that it wasn’t all smooth sailing once she agreed, however. “There was,” she explained, “some resistance of the predominantly White board, to change.”
Makholm, however, made it clear that The M would continue in the new direction. “Kristin was like, ‘If you are not able to come with us, we want to thank you. And we’re moving along.”
Robinson admitted there are aspects of her old career that she misses. “You never stop hearing stories that you want to communicate with your former colleagues.”
But there are other parts of the job that she’s fine with not revisiting. “I don’t miss the day-to-day. That’s where the fight comes. Telling the story of Black people in a non-biased way. Keeping your foot wedged in the door so that other young girls can come behind and tell a better story than what you tell. It’s a profession where you’re always judged in general, but also by your own people. That, I don’t miss.”
Located in the landmark Pioneer-Endicott building in St. Paul, The M went through a major renovation before its reopening. Now said Robinson, “we are about to go into phase two, which will be an expansion into three new areas.” The second phase will result in a new wing for the museum’s permanent collection galleries, and is scheduled to open in 2020.
Though art in some ways confers soft power to its source communities, Robinson noted that the Black community has had a complicated relationship with it. “Art is one of those things that has been a luxury in the Black community,” she stated. “While we’re pushing to bring in more people of color, or ethnic faces, those communities have to work harder for their dollars.
“The extra income is not always there. So we have to think about other alternative spaces and untapped markets. For example, how do we bring in the sports audience? You know, that’s a big one.”
She admitted, however, that sometimes it is a matter of support for the arts not being a priority. “Art is not always a priority in people’s giving; however, it’s expected in their lives.”
Robinson is one of only a few Black faces on America’s museum boards. Her appointment comes at a time when they are making a concerted effort to diversify administration, artists, curators, and collections.
“In a community like this,” she explained, “you don’t see a lot of people of color as CEOs or running multimillion-dollar businesses. Museums traditionally have gone that route. Since they don’t know or haven’t seen or believe [Black people being in such positions] is that common in those communities, they don’t reach out to those people and you don’t see them on boards.”
Robinson, also chair of the State Capitol Art Exhibition Committee where her priority is addressing multicultural representation, and a member of the Minneapolis Arts Commission, indicated that her vision for The M going forward starts with being clear on who museum will be serving.
“I believe this is a time where we’re examining all museums,” said Robinson. “What does it mean when it says it’s ‘American’? It’s a revolutionary time where all these institutions have to come to reckoning.”