Matthew Wallace named North Dakota Museum of Art executive director
Wallace succeeds founding director Laurel Reuter, who is retiring
Matthew Wallace has been named the new executive director of the North Dakota Museum of Art, following the retirement of founding Director Laurel Reuter.
Wallace grew up on the family farm south of Devils Lake, N.D., on the Spirit Lake Reservation. He received a Bachelor’s degree in English from UND. While at UND, Wallace recruited friends and volunteers to work the Museum’s Benefit Dinner and Silent Auction, the Autumn Art Auction, and installations. After completing his BA, Wallace joined the Peace Corps and taught English as a Second Language in the Transylvania region of Romania. Upon completing his two-year commitment in the Peace Corps, he spent time in Los Angeles and Washington and taught English as a Second Language at UND.
In 2004, Wallace left Washington to take a position at the Museum getting the newly funded Rural Arts Initiative running. Wallace worked with volunteer art councils and community members throughout North Dakota to deliver and install exhibitions in whatever venue communities had available – empty storefronts, unused community centers, Masonic Temples, repurposed churches and assembly halls, and renovated opera houses and galleries.
Wallace installed exhibitions for the next 12 years in nearly every town in the state. While working as Director of Rural Arts, he spearheaded fundraisers for the Museum, including auctions, benefits, and membership drives. Along the way he began curating the Benefit Dinner and Silent Auction, while honing grant writing skills.
In the evenings Wallace drove to Moorhead, Minn., to complete his Master of Liberal Arts degree.
A national search
In 2020, Founding Director Laurel Reuter announced her forthcoming retirement. The Museum Board of Trustees formed a search committee to develop a transition plan and contracted Museum Search & Reference out of Boston to conduct a national search.
After an extensive search process, the search committee selected Wallace to be the next Director. Search Committee Chair Dave Molmen said, “We’re thrilled that Matt will be stepping into this position. We are confident that he has the skill and ability to lead the Museum into the future.”
In the 1970s, Reuter started the North Dakota Museum of Art as a student gallery on the 3rd floor of UND’s Student Union. In 1989, the Friends of the North Dakota Museum of Art raised enough money to renovate the former Women’s Gymnasium. 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 the 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. Over the years, Reuter curated countless exhibitions, performances, and lectures.
According to Reuter, “I was just a kid in the English Department at the University of North Dakota when the director of the Student Union asked if I wanted a part-time job keeping a student gallery open on the top floor. It was there I began to think about space, installation, how does a gallery work. With full support from the Union Director and Assistant Director, I began.
“In 1973, I appointed myself the director, and no one cared. I remember it as an exciting time. With the help of my very small staff, we grew the Student Union gallery beyond our expectations. We organized exhibitions by Kenneth Patchen. The catalog was my thesis, the first creative thesis in the English Department. More solo shows followed by Larry Clark (1973), Fritz Scholder (1974), Ed Ruscha (1975), David Gilhooly (1978), Frank Gohlke (1979 — organized by New York’s Museum of Modern Art), Sol LeWitt (1980), N. Scott Momaday (1981 — his first museum exhibition), Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (1981 — her first museum exhibition), and a two-person exhibition by Elmer Bischoff and David Parks (1986).”
Wallace will take over March 15 and will work closely with Reuter until her official retirement date of May 1, 2022, when she will take on the role of Director Emerita.
In honor of Reuter’s nearly 50 years of service, the North Dakota Museum of Art Board of Trustees and the North Dakota Museum of Art Foundation have established the Laurel Reuter Director’s Fund, an investment fund dedicated to carrying out her vision and dedication to contemporary art on the Plains, Native American initiatives, commissions of art of our own time and place, publications, and the continued communication between Museum audience and national and international artists.
Three major gifts have already been contributed to the fund. The Museum will release further details in the coming weeks.