When Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minn., hired art historian Donald Myers in 2000, there was talk that a museum might be built on campus. The Hillstrom Museum of Art opened that same year, and part of Myers' job was persuading benefactor Richard L. Hillstrom to donate more works of art.
A total of 169 exhibitions, ranging from 1980s art world star Kenny Scharf to juried shows about cancer, have graced the walls of the 3,900-square-foot museum on the first floor of the Jackson Campus Center. But in August, Myers retired and the college closed the museum and remaining staff members were let go. The college canceled exhibitions planned for the coming academic year, and the museum is now under the direction of the art and art history department. The future is unclear.
"Given that Don just retired this summer, we don't have that governance structure yet in place, or that long-term vision for the museum," said Gustavus Adolphus College Provost Brenda Kelly. "It is on hiatus right now because we're in the process of planning."
Kelly thinks that the museum will become more of an intentional teaching and learning space geared toward Gustavus students, while "potentially having an external-facing component," she said.
"We also anticipate that it will move to a new location, so we're looking at various locations on campus."
There is no exhibit up for the fall and nothing planned for the rest of the year other than a possible senior student show. Kelly said the college hopes to have the newly envisioned Hillstrom open by fall 2024.
The collection of about 600 works, including 250 from Hillstrom such as George Bellows' 1922 landscape "Sunset, Shady Valley," will stay in its current humidity-controlled location. No word yet on where the collection will go next, or what the new museum space might be.
"I was always trying to be very ambitious in the programming that we put on," Myers said. "I saw no reason why we could not have, for instance, the Rodin exhibition that we had."
To celebrate the college's 150th anniversary in 2012, he organized the exhibition "150 Years of Swedish Art, Highlights From the Swedish National Collections in Stockholm (Moderna Museet and Nationalmuseum)." When the king and queen of Sweden visited the college, they had a chance to see the show.
The museum showed a wide range of exhibitions. In 2012, Mankato-based artist Gwen Westerman worked with the Hillstrom to organize an exhibition around the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
At the height of COVID-19 in Sept. 2020, the museum showcased "Cancer Never Had Me: Views by Artists," a juried exhibition including 33 artists affected by cancer.
Myers organized the ambitious exhibition "Scharftopia: The Far-Out World of Kenny Scharf" in 2018 from Minneapolis-based collector Mats Sexton's collection. Scharf, a fixture of the 1980s New York art world, had become a hot commodity again following exhibitions at MoMa about the East Village art scene's Club 57, and shows at Deitch Projects NY and Honor Fraser Gallery in L.A.
The Star Tribune named Hillstrom Museum of Art the "best unexpected place to find great art." The collection concentrates on early 20th century talents including Grant Wood and Peggy Bacon, and the museum showed everything from surrealism to contemporary abstraction.