Plains Art Museum CEO speaks on his transformative time at MSUM

Andrew (Andy) Maus’s love for art museums -- and the role they play in building community -- was sparked by his first stint at the Plains Art Museum.

As an undergraduate student at MSUM, he worked at the Fargo museum in visitor services. He greeted guests, served as gallery security, worked in the store and even washed dishes for the café.

Today Maus is director and CEO of that art museum, North Dakota’s largest and only accredited one.

He is also MSUM’s 2022 commencement speaker.   

Maus earned his bachelor’s degree in studio art from MSUM in 2002. He returned to the university and earned his master’s in public, human service and health administration in 2011. The years Maus spent at MSUM fall among the most transformational of his professional and personal life.

“That’s thanks to MSUM’s focus on good teaching,” he says. “I carry what I learned with me today.”

Maus started drawing as a child. He became more confident as he created art.

“I could create cool things, but I didn’t have the knowledge base or support base to really understand what I was doing,” he says.

The art program at his private high school in western North Dakota consisted of a room with a kiln that didn’t work. Paints stored in a box were usually dried up and unusable.

“I was so thirsty for understanding the visual arts,” he says. “That’s how I wanted to understand the world and find my place in it.”

That thirst brought him to MSUM and, later, to the Plains.

At MSUM, he took classes in painting and art history and philosophy. He also secured a part-time job at the Plains. After his first stint at the Plains, Maus remembers having a conversation with a colleague at a different place of employment. He told that colleague that someday he’d be director of an art museum.

“That’s a privileged and fortunate thing to say,” he says. “But I created experiences that allowed me to do what I wanted.” 

In 2006, he returned to the Plains, where he eventually moved into the role of director of education. During this tenure, the museum developed plans for what would become the Katherine Kilbourne Burgum Center for Creativity. This expansion opens the museum for creation and creativity by providing room for classes and studio space.

Maus left the Plains in 2010 to lead the Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, Minn. But he returned in 2016 to serve in his current role with the Fargo museum.

Maus’ leadership has led to several advancements at the Plains: In 2016, he led the securing of the Bush Prize for Community Innovation; in 2017, he led an innovative strategy allowing the museum to become a general admission free museum.

While he still creates art, Maus has taken on a lead role as an advocate for arts education and accessibility. In a well-received TEDx talk in 2017, he made the argument that art museums play an integral role in encouraging and supporting community problem-solving.

“Art museums are often known for having things like sculptures and paintings,” he said. “We can also be places that support human-centered problem-solving.”

As an arts administrator and community leader, Maus is proud of making art more accessible.

“The work we’ve done has been transformational,” he says. “It’s fun to be part of.”

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