postofficeA Brief History

The institution that would become the Museum of Nebraska Art (MONA) was conceived in the mid-1970s by several visionary arts educators on the faculty of Kearney State College who recognized the need for an organization dedicated to Nebraska arts and artists. In 1976, the “Nebraska Art Collection” and its inaugural Board of Directors began with fewer than 30 pieces of art and a dream to create a collection and a showplace from which to celebrate Nebraska’s unique artistic heritage. Statewide support of this endeavor was acknowledged in 1979 when the Nebraska Legislature recognized the fledgling collection as the official collection of the state and designated Kearney State College—now the University of Nebraska at Kearney (UNK)—as the institution that would provide support for the collection.

A locally initiated effort to provide a home for the collection culminated in 1986 with the purchase and renovation of the historic building that had served as the Kearney Post Office since 1911; this building had been added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1981. MONA was dedicated and opened to the public in October 1986. In 1993, after dedicated community support helped fulfill the terms of a $1 million challenge grant from the Peter Kiewit Foundation, the renovated and enlarged building we know today was opened.

Since that time, MONA has grown into an important regional center for cultural activity revolving around the extensive and varied permanent collection, which comprises more than 5,000 objects. In addition to collecting and preserving art, MONA provides scholarly, educational, and outreach programming, and actively pursues opportunities for ongoing community engagement.

Our relationship with UNK has evolved into a mutually beneficial partnership under which UNK provides approximately 20% of MONA’s staffing and facilities costs and the two organizations collaborate in providing programs for student interns, staging faculty and student exhibitions, and creating special projects that further the missions of both museum and university.

MONA’s permanent collection reflects the history and culture of the state, spanning nearly all artistic media, including painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, printmaking, ceramic, glass, fiber and textiles. Artwork in the collection ranges from the early 19th century through the present day. The museum defines Nebraska art as artwork by artists who were born, lived, trained, worked, or traveled through Nebraska; artwork affiliated with a Native American tribe with current or ancestral ties to Nebraska; and artwork with Nebraska subject matter.

Since the museum’s founding, MONA has received strong support from private donors and federal grants to acquire new work. The first critical acquisition came in 1978, when the museum raised $125,000 from generous area donors to acquire Robert Henri’s 1910 Portrait of Miss Eulabee Dix (Becker) in Wedding Gown. This painting is the only known wedding portrait the artist completed, and—at nearly life scale—it has become one of the most iconic and defining works in the collection. The following year, another major effort, this time led by a National Endowment for the Arts matching grant, allowed for the purchase of several contemporary artworks by artists Dan Christensen and Sheila Hicks. These early acquisitions immediately became celebrated highlights in the collection and cemented the museum’s commitment to contemporary art. Other collection strengths include modern painting and regionalist works—including Thomas Hart Benton’s original 1945 illustrations for Francis Parkman’s The Oregon Trail—and black-and- white photography with an emphasis on landscape and figures.

Nebraska State Legislative Bill 116 of 1979, known as the Nebraska Art Collection Act, mandated that the collection represent “various mediums, styles, and periods of Nebraska artists and shall be representative of Nebraska’s ethnic, racial minority, and cultural groups.” With these goals in mind, MONA strives to grow a diverse collection and build meaningful relationships with artists and our community.

Ambitious exhibition programming celebrates the breadth and depth of Nebraska art, including a rotating series featuring contemporary artists titled Nebraska Now alongside special exhibitions covering a variety of historic and contemporary topics. Highlights include A Greater Spectrum: African American Artists of Nebraska, 1912–2010 (2011), Mujeres (2016), and Adornment (2018).

MONA’s education and engagement initiatives include tours and hands-on workshops for thousands of students and adults each year, leading audiences to a greater understanding of the artwork on display and of their own lives and experiences. ARTreach, the museum’s outreach program, curates touring exhibitions of original works from MONA’s collection and makes interpretive information available to exhibition venues throughout the state. The Miles to MONA program provides free round-trip transportation between participating schools and the museum.

A New Beginning

In 2015 the MONA Board of Directors developed a comprehensive five-year strategic plan which articulated priorities to restore and expand MONA’s building and grounds, including addressing exhibition, storage, and public engagement needs, and implementing steps to financially sustain the future of the museum. It became clear over the course of that strategic planning process that MONA would need to significantly expand the facility for increased collections, programming, and exhibition capacity, and to fulfill our mission and vision.

A few of the key findings in this planning process:

  • MONA could display only about 2% of the artwork from its While this number aligns with other museums around the country, MONA’s unique mission, focused on artists and artwork from and about Nebraska, makes displaying as much art as possible a high priority.
  • The museum had reached capacity for gallery/display space, studio workshops, and collections
  • With collections storage at capacity, MONA’s ability to accept new donations of significant artwork has been severely
  • The museum’s cramped educational workshop space prevented the museum from fulfilling its educational mission.
  • Deferred maintenance of our historic building was resulting in additional expenses while putting the collections at risk.

To determine whether there would be enough backing statewide and within the Kearney community to support a capital campaign for the expansion, in 2018 the board contracted with Chicago-based fundraising consultants Ter Molen Watkins & Brandt to conduct a study identifying the feasibility of a proposed $20 million campaign. The objectives of the study were to evaluate overall perceptions, test reactions, assess campaign support, identify leaders, reveal fundraising obstacles, and develop campaign recommendations. The firm interviewed 45 key donors and prospects, staff, and stakeholders, helped draft a campaign prospectus, tested specific campaign goals and messages, and prepared a final report recommending that MONA move forward with campaign preparations. The firm’s recommendation was based on a combination of factors including that the 45 individuals interviewed were unanimous in their

praise for MONA and supportive of the need for a project to increase MONA’s footprint.

Completed in spring of 2019, the feasibility study supported MONA’s goals to initiate a capital campaign that would fund the expansion, renovation, and restoration of the museum. MONA’s Board of Directors accepted this recommendation and launched its capital campaign later that year. Ter Molen reaffirmed its positive assessment following budget increases approved by the Board when the project was underway.

The project entails the complete renovation of the existing structure, which comprises the historic 1911 United States Post Office in Kearney and an addition completed in 1993, as well as the construction of a new 23,800-square-foot addition adjacent to the existing building. The renovation of the existing structure will include new and existing galleries, enhanced commons areas, multipurpose spaces, new art handling and storage areas, and a new administration office suite. The new structure will include new entrances, additional galleries, a community engagement studio, retail shop, and visible art storage areas.

The project is supported by a $36.5 million capital campaign that will provide $31.5 million toward construction and $5 million toward an operating endowment to sustain the organization long-term.

On April 26, 2021, Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts signed legislation for the appropriation of $7.5 million for MONA’s expansion, restoration, and renovation project. As required in the legislation, MONA matched this amount dollar-for-dollar with funds raised from private individuals and foundations. This visionary investment by the state emphasizes the importance of MONA to the state of Nebraska. MONA is Nebraska’s museum and is here for all Nebraska residents and visitors.

Projected to open in 2024, the newly expanded and restored Museum of Nebraska Art will serve as a vibrant beacon for the arts, embodying MONA’s mission and vision, while embracing the history and diversity of the state.


The Museum of Nebraska Art (MONA) celebrates the history of Nebraska’s visual art for diverse audiences. MONA collects, preserves, researches, exhibits, and interprets the work of artists who were born, lived, trained, or worked in Nebraska or who created artworks that reflect the culture of Nebraska.

Contact us: phone: (308) 865-8559 fax: (308) 865-8104 email: mona@nullunk.edu


As the home of Nebraska’s official state art collection, the Museum of Nebraska Art endeavors to be the cultural center for Nebraska art and artists by providing quality exhibitions and programs, by expanding its collection, and by preserving its historic building. MONA looks to the future for the growth of its operations and facilities.