The McKnight Foundation is one of the major sources of arts funding in Minnesota. The McKnight Foundation believes “Minnesota’s artists are innovators, organizers, and leaders–as critical to our state’s quality of life as other professionals working in business, health, technology, government, education, and other sectors.”

The McKnight Foundation Arts program funds individual artists, artist-service organizations, and all sizes of arts organizations throughout Minnesota. The McKnight Foundation’s Artist Fellowships have recognized and funded individual Minnesota artists since the program’s inception in 1981, and it currently gives around $1.7 million each year through the statewide fellowships. The Fellowships currently fund artists working in ten disciplines: ceramic artists, choreographers, composers, dancers, media artists, musicians, playwrights, theater artists, visual artists, and writers. The Fellowships for each discipline are administered by a relevant arts organization.

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Jim Denomie, Untitled with Inspiration Point, 2013

The Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) administers the four McKnight Foundation Visual Artist Fellowships, which are given to mid-career artists and include an unrestricted $25,000 stipend to give those artists “unfettered creative time” and to help artists “set aside periods of time for study, reflection, experimentation, and exploration; take advantage of an opportunity; or work on a new project.” MCAD also hosts the annual exhibition for those artists.

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Chris Larson, Stack Kacmarcik, 2013

The 2012/2013 McKnight Foundation Visual Artist Fellowship Exhibition brings together four very different artists with clearly defined and distinct bodies of work: Jim Denomie’s overflowing landscape paintings and portraits; Chris Larson’s photographs and minimal sculptures of reclaimed demolition debris; Ruben Nusz’s overwhelmingly saturated color field installation; and Natasha Pestich’s created remnants of an incident at an art school.

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Ruben Nusz, Installation view of Like a sword that cuts but cannot cut itself. Like an eye that sees but cannot see itself, 2013. Header image is a different view of the same installation.

During my first visit to the exhibition, I was surrounded by teenagers and their parents preparing for summer classes at MCAD. As I navigated among the tables full of keys and emergency contact forms, I was asked more than once if I needed to be shown to my dorm. The nervous teens seemed unsure that they would be responsible for getting themselves up in the morning. Their parents seemed equally worried about leaving their children in the hands of an art school.

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Natasha Pestich, Installation view of The Commons project promotional materials, Art and Society Symposium Poster 2009, The Commons Event Poster 2010, Lucy Kimball

The juxtaposition of the mid-career work on the walls and the teenagers was striking. Those mid-career artists were once teenagers. I was once a teenager. The people we were as teenagers have somehow become the people we are today. I could not help but think of my own teenage years and the ways I filled my summers. I also could not help but think of the path those teenagers are headed down. They are presumably having a wonderful time learning about art, making art, “becoming” artists. Some of them may go to art school. Some of them may continue to be artists. All of them are already absorbing the idea that art belongs to higher education. We all hear about the increasing necessity of higher education in the contemporary world. We know that having a college degree opens some doors, but everyday I realize just how much is not within the walls of higher education.

After revisiting the McKnight Visual Artists Fellowship exhibition, I want to find the teenagers again to tell them there is no rush, the time they spend is all a part of learning to be an artist. I want to urge them to swim in the lakes as much as they read, to spend time on the internet as much as they make, to investigate the complex nature of the work on the walls in front of them as much as they listen to their teachers. We became the people we are today because of the experiences we had then, and we are  richer for each of those experiences. At the very least, I want to remind myself to store the knowledge and questions prompted by the exhibition next to my memories of dripping popsicles and humid, star-filled nights.

Eric Asboe

Eric Asboe is an artist, writer, and cultural worker. Asboe's creative works prioritize process over product and explore the boundary between practice as improvement and practice as way of life. He lives and works in the Southeast.

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