Joan Mondale remembered for her support of the arts

Joan Mondale, wife of former Vice President Walter Mondale and a tireless advocate for the arts, died Monday while in hospice care at the age of 83 with her husband and their sons Ted and William at her side, according to a statement sent out by Westminster Presbyterian Church in Minneapolis.

Joan Mondale with her dog, Biscuit, at her home in Minneapolis, Minn. March 4, 2010.
Jeffrey Thompson / MPR News

Joan Mondale’s love of art came long before her immersion into politics. While attending Macalester College, she worked at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts teaching children’s classes and cataloging prints. She saw supporting the arts as her mission.

“Often artists and government officials live in their own separate worlds, and I must confess that I did enjoy stirring things up a bit,” Joan Mondale said in a 1986 speech, remembering an event she hosted that resulted in a spirited conversation between Sen. Barry Goldwater of Arizona and Indian artist R.C. Gorman.

“Some people still wonder why the government should subsidize the arts,” she said in a speech in 1986. “They might just well as ask why the government should subsidize our highways.”

While her husband was serving as vice president, Joan Mondale was appointed by former President Jimmy Carter as the administration’s “ombudsman for arts.” In a statement sent out Monday night, Carter said Joan Mondale “was exemplary in using the opportunities public service provided to advance the arts and other issues important to her and many Americans.”

Mondale enthusiastically served on a number of arts organizations locally and nationally throughout the years, including the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis. Former director Emily Galusha said Joan Mondale often pitched in on the “nitty-gritty” planning of events or fundraising at the center.

“She was so enthusiastic and it was like she was giving other people a chance to participate in her enthusiasm,” Galusha said. “That’s pretty infectious when people approach it that way.”

Galusha said Joan Mondale was known for her graciousness with visiting artists.

“She would send notes, just a short note, either to me or to an artist, and that kind of thing makes the work of what is basically an institution feel very humane,” Galusha said. “That was a real difference that she made — to keep that human touch.”

Read more about Mondale’s love of the arts, and her legacy, here.