Intermedia Arts executive director headed to St. Paul

Theresa Sweetland will join the staff of the Minnesota Museum of American Art

THE WEDGE — Intermedia Arts announced the departure Tuesday of Theresa Sweetland, who has been with the non-profit community arts organization for the past 17 years and currently serves as executive and artistic director.

Associate Director Julie Bates MacGillis was named acting executive director for the next six months while the organization’s board conducts a search for a new leader.

Sweetland is joining the staff of the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul where she’ll serve as director of development and external relations, a spokesperson said. Intermedia plans to honor Sweetland at its April 29 “Art. Changes. Everything.” fundraising breakfast.

She starts April 27 at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, according to a statement released Tuesday by the museum. Sweetland said the museum’s mission and vision “really connect with me and my values.”

Sweetland helmed Intermedia as it navigated a financial crisis brought on by the Great Recession. Grants from major corporate and foundation donors evaporated in late 2008, leading to staff layoffs and temporary gallery closings.

Working with the board of directors, Sweetland accelerated a shift outlined in Intermedia’s strategic plan, which called for relying less on grants and more on individual donations. Intermedia took in two nearby congregations as temporary tenants. In 2009, Intermedia announced a merger with Phillips Community Television.

Less than a year after Intermedia called an emergency town hall meeting to address the budget shortfall, it was well on its way to recovery.

MacGillis said Intermedia not only survived a “near-death experience” under Sweetland’s leadership, it has ended every fiscal year since 2010 with a budget surplus. At the same time, it refocused on its core mission of supporting “change-making artists,” as Sweetland put it, through programs like the Creative Community Leadership Institute.

“It’s a really strong time for the organization [to go through] leadership transition,” she said.

Sweetland also co-founded B-Girl Be, the annual women in hip hop summit hosted at Intermedia, and helped lead the Creative CityMaking initiative, a partnership with the City of Minneapolis that explored the potential for artists to engage the community in city planning and development.

At the Minnesota Museum of American Art, Sweetland joins Executive Director Kristin Makholm, who previously ran the galleries at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

The peripatetic museum has occupied a dozen different St. Paul locations over its 121-year history, but its board of trustees recently settled on Pioneer Endicott as a new permanent home. It signed a 30-year lease on the space in 2014.

“That certainly puts a stake in the ground for where the organization is going and the role it’s going to have in the community,” Sweetland said.

Intermedia Arts was founded in 1973 on the University of Minnesota campus by a group of students and community members. It was originally known as University Community Video, and its members used then-new consumer video technology to examine the arts and social issues.

The name change occurred in the 1980s around the time Intermedia opened a downtown gallery space. Its mission expanded, and the multi-disciplinary, multi-cultural arts organization moved in 1994 to the Wedge neighborhood.