Arts and Culture

Post-Depot: The Duluth Art Institute reopens in U.S. Bank building downtown

Person stands in building
Executive director Christina Woods in May at the new downtown location for the Duluth Art Institute.
Alex V. Cipolle | MPR News

Duluth Art Institute executive director Christina Woods looks out over the rising central hillside of Duluth from the fourth floor of a downtown office building. An unbroken ribbon of windows frames the panoramic view.

“It brings in just a dynamic amount of light, and it’s just really beautiful,” Woods said.

The 3,000-square-foot space in the 10-story U.S. Bank Building at 130 West Superior Street, Suite 400, is the institute’s new gallery location.

The DAI will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the opening 4 p.m. Tuesday, June 25, which will be followed by the reception for the Annual Member Show. The institute has about 300 members.

“It was a hustle to find a space,” Woods said. ”It was a hustle to figure out how do we move our exhibitions programming? How do we build out a space? How do we find the money to do that? And luckily, we’ve achieved a lot more than we had expected in a very short amount of time.”

After almost 50 years at the St. Louis County Heritage and Arts Center, known as “the Depot,” the DAI was forced to find a new location this spring after the St. Louis County Board of Commissioners declined negotiations to renew its lease in 2023.

“We were one of the charter organizations that were brought in to deliver the mission of bringing art, culture and history to the region. The idea was that it would be free or low cost to constituents and visitors who wanted to come and explore an arts and culture experience,” Woods said. “And in exchange, the rent that the charter members would pay would be very minimal. So we enjoyed that relationship for many, many years.”

In 2023, the Depot raised the rent beyond what the institute could afford.

“The county decided not to go into negotiations with us and terminated our lease,” Woods said.

The DAI still has a makerspace and community art center in Duluth’s Lincoln Park neighborhood where 45 artists rent space and share equipment. 

An art gallery
The Annual Member Show on view in the DAI galleries.
Courtesy photo

In the new gallery space, Woods said DAI has been putting in new floors and building movable gallery walls, a technique they learned when creating the George Morrison Gallery at the Depot location in the mid-1980s.

One challenge of the new venue is that visitors will have to take an elevator up to the fourth floor.

“We put a lot of thought into wayfinding and have a marketing campaign that’s going to come along with our opening,” Woods said. “We’ve had quite a bit of publicity about the situation we’ve been in with the county. I feel like there’s a good chance that many people are going to be very up for this adventure.”

A benefit of the gallery is Woods said the wall of windows provides a safer light for artwork because it comes from the west and north side of the building.

“It’s just really been a wonderful surprise to find a building that could actually meet the very specific needs that we have for having art on exhibition,” Woods said.

This activity is made possible in part by the Minnesota Legacy Amendment's Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund.