The Airport Foundation MSP’s art program invites travelers to pause.
An average person traveling through the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) may not notice the extensive collection of art scattered throughout the two terminals. But slow down and you may begin to notice something beyond the bustling travelers or rolling suitcases.
When you arrive at the airport, you’re greeted by murals and installations in the parking ramps, like Interrupted Landscapes of the Incomer by photographer Steve Ozone, which features immigrant portraits displayed through punched metal panels. Walk into Terminal 1, and you’ll discover The Aurora by Jen Lewin. Throughout the airport, some bathrooms are enhanced with colorful mosaics. You may also witness live performances from local musicians.
All of these experiences are available thanks to Arts@MSP, a partnership between the Airport Foundation MSP (AFMSP) and the Metropolitan Airport Commission (MAC). Program director Ben Owen says he seeks to “create place out of space,” using art installations, music and film to create memorable and meaningful moments throughout the airport for travelers to enjoy. Some of the art is commissioned and part of the airport’s permanent collection, while others are submitted into rotating exhibitions.
This program supports the mission of AFMSP, a nonprofit which seeks to serve the MSP community, to enhance the experience, exceed traveler expectations and support the aviation community.
AFMSP, which is the only foundation of its kind globally, was started in 1982 by leaders of the corporate hospitality and aviation industries who wanted MSP to be a leading hub for major airlines—and one way to do that was to enhance the customer experience.
Stillwater resident, AFMSP president and CEO Jana Webster says, in the beginning, the foundation simply paid for landscaping, signage and art in the airport and funded scholarships for aviation schools. “The foundation evolved as the airport grew—and the airport [has] grown a lot in 40 years,” she says.
Webster started working with AFMSP nearly 25 years ago and has been grateful to work with such a diverse group of individuals. “I have my private pilot’s license [although is no longer licensed to fly], and when this job came up, I had never heard of an airport foundation, and I couldn’t imagine what they did … But it’s been spectacular,” she says.
Pre-COVID, the foundation saw over 600 volunteers. Today, the foundation utilizes a relatively small staff and more than 460 volunteers to run its operations—which include the Travellers Assistance program, tourism support, gambling operations, an animal ambassador program, and an arts and culture department. “I think it’s one of the most comprehensive, robust arts programs of any airport in the world,” Webster says.
Arts@MSP rotates 15 to 20 exhibits annually, which translates into approximately 400–600 pieces of fine art created by local and regional artists.
“Having the ability to create programs and services that impact millions of people every year and that are so beneficial not only on a global level, but also on a local level is so great,” Webster says. “And to create and help, especially Minnesotans, have a sense of pride about this airport … It’s amazing.”