Walker Art Center

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Mission & History

The Walker Art Center is a catalyst for the creative expression of artists and the active engagement of audiences. Focusing on the visual, performing, and media arts of our time, the Walker takes a global, multidisciplinary, and diverse approach to the creation, presentation, interpretation, collection, and preservation of art. Walker programs examine the questions that shape and inspire us as individuals, cultures, and communities.

History

More than 125 years ago, a Minneapolis man built a room onto his house, mounted his 20 favorite paintings on the walls, and opened his door to everyone who wanted to come in. In 1879, lumber baron Thomas Barlow (T. B.) Walker’s art gallery was a unique venue for the arts of its time. It was also a modest start for a contemporary arts center now revered throughout the world for the range and vitality of its visual arts, performing arts, and media arts programs.

Formally established in 1927, the Walker Art Center became the first public art gallery in the Upper Midwest. The museum’s focus on modern art began in the 1940s, when a gift from Mrs. Gilbert Walker made possible the acquisition of works by important artists of the day, including sculptures by Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, Alberto Giacometti, and others. During the 1960s, the Walker organized increasingly ambitious exhibitions that circulated to museums in the United States and abroad. The Walker’s collections expanded to reflect crucial examples of contemporary artistic developments; concurrently, performing arts, film, and education programs grew proportionately and gained their own national prominence throughout the next three decades. Today, the Walker is recognized internationally as a singular model of a multidisciplinary arts organization and as a national leader for its innovative approaches to audience engagement.

Adjacent to the Walker is the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, one of the nation’s largest urban sculpture parks. When the Garden opened in 1988, it was immediately heralded by the New York Times as “the finest new outdoor space in the country for displaying sculpture.” The Garden’s centerpiece and most popular work is Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen’s Spoonbridge and Cherry (1985–1988), which has become a beloved symbol of the Twin Cities. The Garden has demonstrated extraordinary appeal in the community, and is a vital force for bringing new visitors inside the Walker and building new audiences for contemporary art. More than 15,000 people attended the Walker’s Rock the Garden concert and 15th-anniversary celebration in June 2003.

The Walker’s expansion, which was designed by Herzog & de Meuron, opened in April 2005. The increased indoor and outdoor facilities, including the William and Nadine McGuire Theater, allow the Walker to share more of its resources with its growing audiences—from objects in the collection and books in the library to an inside view of the artist’s own creative process. Increasingly, this ability to link ideas from different disciplines and art forms is seen as a model for cultural institutions of the future. A key aspect of the design is a “town square,” a sequence of spaces that, like the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, draws people for informal conversation, interactive learning, and community programs.

Today the Walker Art Center ranks among the five most-visited modern/contemporary art museums in the United States and, together with the adjacent Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, attracts more than 600,000 visitors per year.

The galleries in T. B. Walker’s home, circa 1904

Spring Dance Festival performance in the Walker Art Center lobby, 1940

Walker Art Center, circa 1971