September 6, 2021 • By Christine Pasalo Norland

Art of the People:

Mingei International Museum Reopens

Located in San Diego’s historic Balboa Park, the Mingei International Museum reopened on Saturday, September 3. Enhancements to the museum–which centers folk art, craft, and design–include an additional 10,000 square feet of exhibition and programming space, newly opened outdoor terraces and courtyard, a flexible theater space, and the Museum’s first-ever education center.


Mingei’s first floor, known as The Commons Level, is a public space that requires no admission. Now accessible from the Alcazar Garden in addition to the museum’s main entrance opposite the El Prado Restaurant, the first level includes commissioned pieces incorporated into the architecture of the first floor space.

Look up to see “Suspended Refrain” by Jennifer Luce, a perforated metal ceiling echoing a player piano roll; and “Truth & Beauty in Black”, a 30-foot-long felted mural by artist and activist Claudy Jongstra that explores the cultural histories of indigo and black pigments, installed above the taps in Mingei’s new bistro called Artifact (opening in October 2021).

Selections from the Museum’s permanent collection are also on display in the exhibit “Art of the People for the People.” Co-curated by historian and curator Camille Bethune-Brown, this exhibit showcases the interplay between humans and the natural world, as well as the persistent desire to make and live with beautiful and well-crafted things.


In addition to helping prepare the museum’s new education center, Bethune-Brown also co-curated the exhibit “Global Spirit–Folk Art from the Ted Cohen Collection” on the second floor. Known as The Gallery Level, “Global Spirit” appears alongside the exhibit “Humble Spirit / Priceless Art” and more commissioned works.

Filled with folk art that includes handcrafted masks, puppets, dolls, food preparation tools, instruments, and baskets, the varied materials and subject matter in “Global Spirit” represent the Museum’s mission to celebrate human creativity in all forms while revealing aspects of the lives and history of people from around the world.

Standouts include unexpected objects like a food trough that, on first glance, looks like a tiny canoe, and a three-foot-tall papier-mâché elephant that originally adorned the top of a fireworks shop in India.

“We aren’t just Art of the People, we are Art of the Possible, Art of Wonder, and Art of the World Around Us,” commented Bethune-Brown on a Mingei International Museum Instagram post from August.

Mingei’s new second-floor outdoor terraces are also accessible from The Gallery Level, as is the new reference library, where visitors can read through the museum’s vast collection of arts and craft books for inspiration, research, and new crafts projects.


While originally established in 1978, the Mingei International Museum moved into Balboa Park’s “House of Charm” in 1996. It closed in 2018 to begin this transformation and, at the time, estimated the renovation to take a year. Three years and $47 million raised later, the Museum is a testament to its mission to celebrate the arts of daily life.

Folk art is unique in its intention to be both beautiful and useful. It's art we interact with moment-to-moment that also serves our everyday experiences–what we eat and drink on, where we sit and sleep, how we transport our belongings and ourselves. Because of its accessibility, it is an art that inherently inspires, inviting anyone and everyone to try their hand at making.

Mingei International Museum is located in San Diego, California, in Balboa Park. Free admission to The Commons Level. Paid admission required for The Gallery Level. Masks are required for all guests (ages 2+) inside the Museum, regardless of vaccination status.


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