Photograph by Scott Buchschacher
It’s all too easy to poke fun at the Minneapolis Institute of Art for trying to re-brand itself as “Mia” (pronounced me-ya), upending a century of casual references to the museum as the “MIA” (pronounced em-eye-ay). But let’s face it, the MIA needs a hip new image, and what better way to communicate millennial savvy than to de-capitalize two letters in your name and let everyone else try to figure out what it means and how to pronounce it?
Re-branding is, of course, what institutions do when they get tired of themselves and assume that everyone else is tired of them, too. Unfortunately, Twin Citians tend to resist re-branding. At the airport, they tried to change the name of the Hubert H. Humphrey Terminal to the much snappier and more memorable “Terminal 2,” but everyone still refers to it as the Humphrey. People still call the Macy’s downtown Dayton’s. And efforts to re-brand the Twin Cities under the combined moniker “The Twitties” have gone absolutely nowhere.
Still, institutions like the MIA (Mia) don’t change their name for no good reason, or without putting a lot of thought into it. PR agencies are engaged, meetings are held, retreats are scheduled, ideas are brainstormed, consultants are consulted. During the process, the organization itself must search its own soul to reconnect with its mission and purpose. After months of careful consideration, the final agonizing choices are made, all the second-bests are eliminated, and a single shining idea emerges as “The One”—in this case, going from the MIA to . . . drumroll . . . Mia!
Now, calling the MIA Mia (not the Mia) may seem like a small change, but I assure you it is not. This is a re-branding exercise, which means that the word “Mia” is pulsing with meaning and metaphor, signifying an entirely new identity, one that will guide the institution for the next hundred years.
In the media materials promoting the name change, it’s explained that “Mia” is derived from the Italian word for “mine,” “my,” or “beloved,” and is intended to embrace the “warmer, friendlier aspects of the museum’s identity” (as opposed to the cold, mean ones). The new name also suggests that the museum is no longer “ours,” it is the personal property of each and every one of us, which is why everyone in the Twin Cities must now sign up for cleanup duty.
Of course, most people will recognize the name from the romantic musical Mamma Mia!, which provides the all-important Scandinavian connection to our region in the form of songs by the rock group ABBA.
Digging further, we find that in the United States the name Mia happens to be the sixth most-popular girl’s name in the country, and number one in Germany. That means the “in” crowd is going to love her. Mia is also a forward-thinking brand statement, so she has thoughtfully jettisoned the idea of gender neutrality in favor of an identity that is more feminine and approachable. Mia is a brand of “fashion-forward” women’s shoes as well, so we know she’s always going to be in style.
In her press materials, Mia claims her name has “positive meanings in cultures around the world.” Maybe, but according to UrbanDictionary.com, Mia is also slang for “a crazy girl”—someone who “makes jokes most people do not understand.” Translation: She’s that girl you want to date, but really shouldn’t. Mia has been quite interested in contemporary art of late, however, and “jokes people don’t understand” is as good an explanation of contemporary art as any.
More to the heart of the matter may be the Latin definition: rebellion. Because nothing says rebellion like dropping the “s” from your name, as Mia has also done. She is now the Minneapolis Institute of Art, a change that boldly rejects the whole idea of sticking a gratuitous “s” on the end of your name.
In Scandinavian countries, Mia means “bitter,” but not in the way you might think. It means bitter, as in “bitterly wanted child,” which is an odd way of wanting a kid, but perhaps makes sense in cold countries where “bitter” is a term of endearment, as it certainly is here.
As a brand, Mia also cleverly distinguishes herself from the female rapper M.I.A., and distances herself from the old name’s unfortunate association with missing military personnel. That’s smart, because branding is all about avoiding confusion and establishing a unique identity. I’m sure all the other Mias out there will agree: Mia is a great new name for the Minneapolis Institute of Art. It’s so good that people really ought to shout it: Mia!