Endowed professor links UMSL with Laumeier Sculpture Park

Marilu Knode

Marilu Knode holds a joint appointment as the Aronson Endowed Professor in Modern and Contemporary Art History at UMSL and executive director of Laumeier Sculpture Park in Sunset Hills, Mo. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Marilu Knode’s art career was pure happenstance.

As an undergraduate at The University of Kansas in Lawrence, she overheard some guys talking about a friend of theirs. The friend was breaking up with his wife – who happened to teach renaissance art history.

“There was something about what they said that made me think, ‘Wow, what’s that? That I’m interested in,’” Knode says. “I took her class, and that was it for me.”

Fast-forward 30-plus years: Knode oversees operations at Laumeier Sculpture Park, in Sunset Hills, Mo. Owned and operated by St. Louis County Parks and Recreation, the park is a premier open-air museum and one of the oldest and largest dedicated sculpture parks in the country.

Laumeier also exemplifies the Des Lee Collaborative Vision at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. The DLCV links educational, cultural, governmental and social-service organizations to make the St. Louis area a better place to live and work.

Under the umbrella of the DLCV, Laumeier and UMSL are partners. So in addition to being the park’s executive director, Knode is the Aronson Endowed Professor in Modern and Contemporary Art History at the university. She’s held the joint appointment since September 2009.

“This is my dream,” Knode says. “To be paid to think about art.”

And one of her main areas of concentration is strengthening the connection between the university and park. Sharing and borrowing expertise, according to Knode, is important for organizations with limited resources.

“We have something here that faculty and students can use as a platform for their research,” Knode says.

Laumeier regularly taps UMSL students for internships, and students often help install artwork. The park also employs a graphic design student from the university. The annual position is funded through the DLCV.

“We’re always trying to prioritize UMSL students since there is this really long-term connection between the institutions,” Knode says. “We’re trying to find more areas where we can have some overlap.”

Knode began her career at The Museum of Modern Art in New York as a cataloguer. She transitioned to curator before making the leap to senior management positions. Prior to joining Laumeier and UMSL, she was the assistant director and head of research at Future Arts Research at Arizona State University in Phoenix.

“I came to St. Louis specifically because I really love what Laumeier represents,” Knode says. “It’s got a really great track record of playing a leadership role in defining what public art can look like and what sculpture looks like.”

The park was incorporated in 1977. Over the years, it’s grown to 105 acres. It receives more than 300,000 visitors annually, and the audience is a diverse group that includes art lovers, dog walkers and picnickers.

During the summers, Laumeier offers programs for K-12 students. New shows arrive every six months, and Knode is working on year-round adult education programming.

“Forward momentum is important, because museums are niche organizations,” she says. “Everybody has to refresh their model.”


This story was originally published in the fall 2012 issue of UMSL Magazine.


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