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Painted portrait of head and shoulders of Laurel Reuter with dark hair in elegant bun

After dedicating fifty years of her life to the North Dakota Museum of Art, Founding Director Laurel Reuter was not about to walk away without helping members of the board and staff plan for the future. Together, they created the Laurel Reuter Director’s Fund to continue her legacy of presenting world-class contemporary art, developing Native American Initiatives, commissioning new works, supporting artistic publications, and more. 

“I learned early on that my primary competitor was myself.” - Laurel Reuter

In a letter to friends and supporters on the ND Museum of Art website, Reuter outlined her history with the museum, along with her most memorable exhibitions. She explained how she journeyed from her childhood home in Tokio, ND – a small Spirit Lake Reservation village – to the University of North Dakota where she studied literature and was offered a part-time job to watch over the student art gallery. Shortly thereafter, she became the self-appointed “director” of the newly named UND Student Union Art Gallery which moved twice and came to be known as the North Dakota Museum of Art. 

"NN (No Name)," a 205 photographic installation by Juan Manuel Echavarría of Colombia
     Echavarría of Columbia

Throughout her tenure, Reuter’s curiosity brought in exhibitions from artists across the globe. One of the more reputable exhibitions was called “The Disappeared,” which opened in 2004 and was funded in part by the Lannan Foundation. The show contained work from 26 Latin American artists who created art about loved ones who disappeared during the military dictatorships of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. The exhibition received accolades from the New York Times, NewsDay and others. Reuter herself wrote a highly acclaimed essay to supplement the project. The exhibit was so popular that it toured to five more places in the United States and five places in South and Central America.

Reuter explained that she worked hard to achieve the mission of the ND Museum of Art: …to build a world-class museum for the people of the Northern Plains. Referring to her impending retirement, she wrote, “I will go forward knowing we have done this to the best of our abilities. I depart the Museum knowing I have left a fully capable staff entrenched in creating an environment dedicated to equal participation in the arts–be it camps for children, concerts for those who enjoy Blues, Folk, or Classical, or exhibitions not seen in this part of the world.”

Building front of ND Museum of Art, photo by Paul Noot
     ND Museum of Art, by Paul Noot

However, she did not stop there. She had one last wish. Reuter did not want the new director, Matthew Wallace, staff or board of trustees to worry about income that would be needed to pay bills and fund important programming. Therefore, she proposed the idea of creating an endowment fund, which was later called the “Laurel Reuter Director’s Fund.”

Laurel Reuter speaking in microphone with Matthew Wallace to her right
     Reuter, Wallace
Reuter herself kickstarted the 2-year campaign with a donation of $100,000. The fund has a goal of reaching $2,000,000 and after Reuter’s retirement party on August 6, the fund had reached over $450,000. Eventually, some of the earnings from the fund will be used to continue Reuter’s legacy of bringing in international artists and supporting her Native American initiative.

Deputy Director Matthew Wallace, who had been working at the museum since 2004, was named the new Executive Director in the summer of 2022. When asked about her future plans, Reuter said she will do some gardening, hopefully travel abroad and possibly do some more writing.

On a final note, to help explain one reason for her success, Reuter wrote, “I had to be polite but ignore those who said, ‘we already tried that. It didn’t work.’” Laurel Reuter proved them wrong over and over. The Laurel Reuter Director’s Fund all but guarantees the tradition will continue.


The North Dakota Museum of Art is supported in part by a grant from the North Dakota Council on the Arts, which receives funding from the state legislature and the National Endowment for the Arts.

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