With all the major art institutions building humungous new additions and ambitious splashy PR campaigns, the MIA feels a little understated and low key in comparison. Often it feels like it belongs in a different century -- and maybe it does but that ain't necessarily bad.
The location of MIA says much about it as an institution. Up on a hill ovedrlooking downtown, nestled among the old mansions where the 19th century aristocracy thrived (and long since abandoned) the MIA became the storage attic for all the lumber, railroad, milling and river barons of trade to house their collectibles.
A great past-time of these worldly priviledged art collectors was to go to the Orient, Africa and South American cultures (or just the east coast) and bring back the riches (booty) they discovered there. Those barons grab up this art like fetish objects, similar to the way red neck bubbah boys are fixated to the chrome bumpers on cars.
Contrast this against the modern orientation of the Walker Art Center and you'll have a very different perspective on art, history and culture and a vital one to the appreciation of art. The struggle for MIA is to stay abreast of contemporary sensibilities, just as the struggle for the Walker is to provide a contextual history and relevance for the average educated Joe and Jackie on the street.
The MIA has awlays been strong in the area of photography due to very good curatorial oversight. They have mounted major exhibitions of art and antiquities that don't fit into places like Walker, the Wesiman, or the Minnesota Historical Society.
Areas they could improve upon are providing series of screenings, lectures or visiting artists / intellectuals / historian what would bring life to their stayed collection. Many years back, the MIA had a series of small but briilant films that would not be shown anywhere else due to their specific focus. They were not well publicized but fabulous in this context. All these major arts institutions have abandoned their commitment to the poor and providing a cultural education to those who cannot afford fees and memberships and that is criticall derisive to an equality society.
And MIA has over the years housed the Minnesota Artist Exhibition Program but with minimal support and little fan-faire. MAEP is a critical component it a city where the major institutions have often turned their back on local arts and artists.
MIA also has a decent cafe and bookstore/gift shop and adjoins the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the Children Theater making up a campus of arts related institutions.
Try to take advantage of the free admission days