Mission History Timeline Architecture


We, as inhabitants of the Northern Great Plains, struggle to ensure that the arts are nourished, and that they flourish, because we know that a vital cultural life is deeply essential to isolated people. We have concluded that to study the arts is to educate our minds, for through the arts we learn to make difficult decisions based upon abstract and ambiguous information. This is the ultimate goal of education. Furthermore, we have come to value the arts because they make our hearts wise—the highest of human goals. Therefore, in the most difficult of times, and in an environment that might be perceived as alien to the visual arts, we propose to build a world-class museum for the people of the Northern Plains.

The North Dakota Museum of Art, by legislative act, serves as the official art museum of the State of North Dakota. The Museum's purpose is to foster and nurture the aesthetic life and artistic expression of the people living on the Northern Plains. The Museum will provide experiences that please, enlighten and educate the child, the student and the broad general public. Specifically, the Museum will research, collect, conserve and exhibit works of art. It will also develop programs in such related arts as performance, media arts and music



The North Dakota Museum of Art began in the mid-1970s as the University of North Dakota Art Galleries, a temporary exhibition space primarily for the benefit of university students. In 1981 the North Dakota State Legislature designated the University Galleries as North Dakota's official art museum. With its expanded mission came a new name: the North Dakota Museum of Art.

The first task was to find an appropriate and permanent home. A building fund, established in the late 1970s from private sources, had grown to $1 million. The staff and the Friends of the North Dakota Museum of Art, a nonprofit organization established in 1985, raised an additional $400,000. The  University of North Dakota agreed to give the Museum a 1907 gymnasium if the Friends raised the additional money needed for the renovation. In September 1989 the building, designed by Harvey Hoshour, an MIT graduate who worked for Mies van der Rohe before establishing his own firm in New Mexico, opened to great public enthusiasm. Artists participated by designing the public restrooms (neon artist Cork Marcheschi), the gift shop and the donor wall (Barton Benes), and the sculpture garden (Richard Nonas).

The North Dakota Museum of Art collects contemporary, international art in all media from the early 1970s onwards. It collects the visual history of the region. It is also assembling a survey collection of contemporary Native American art, starting with the early 1970s when the movement emerged. This does not preclude the acceptance of collections that are outside this focus if they would enrich the visual life of our audience, i.e. a historical textile collection.





The North Dakota Museum of Art is housed in a transformed gymnasium. In 1985 UND's old Women's Gym on the south edge of the campus was donated to the Museum. The building, with its 30-foot beamed ceilings and its maple floor, provided a spectacular shell for the galleries.

The exterior has a carved lintel describing what you might expect on the inside, but GYMNASIUM belies the interior and its content. As described by Patrice Clark Koelsh, "when I go through the door, I feel like Judy Garland's Dorothy stepping out of the black-and-white Kansas homestead and magically transported to the technicolor Kingdom of Oz."
The late Harvey Hoshour, an architect from Albuquerque, New Mexico, designed the 16,000 square-foot space to include three exhibition galleries, a video information room, a coat room, and a gift shop. The two large exhibition spaces on the main floor stretch the full height of the building. Both spaces have glorious light from two-story, scrim shaded windows and a skylight that runs the length of the building. The third exhibition space is an ample yet intimate second-story loft. Administrative offices and café are on the lower level, where they too have natural light. There are unexpected touches of whimsy in the mostly serene and unassuming environment: The ceilings of the restrooms have neon sculpture by Minneapolis artist Cork Marcheschi, the gift shop has selections of a variety of artwork, including children's books about the flood.