The NEMAA blog is a platform for us to share our members work and their stories, and a hub for information about the NEMAA community.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Board President Brenda Kayzar's April Letter to NEMAA Members

Hello Members,

As I write this, I am in the company of close to 10,000 geographers at the discipline’s annual

conference. We’ve convened in Chicago and since arriving I’ve noted the ubiquity of the arts;

from coffee shop galleries to exponential public art occurrences. The ubiquity of the arts (and

geographers!) is represented in the conference sessions as well through creative economy

discussions and analyses about the role the arts play as an economic driver in many cities; large

and small, thriving and moribund. The arts are foundational in urban geographic planning and

research. Moreover, while some resistance remains in accepting the reality of the arts based

economy in civic practice, there is little doubt about the value of arts production and activity

from the researchers in these sessions.

As I listen I’m given to reflection; on the NE community of artists and NEMAA. One of the

city’s most treasured events (Reader’s Choice in City Pages!) is about to take place for the 20th

time. Art-A-Whirl is welcomed with both unbounded excitement and tinges of trepidation. I

want to talk about the excitement first! This open studio event is a unique phenomenon in the

arts world. It represents a sustained, active and growing arts community, revealed in a blend of

numerous spaces of production, presentation and consumption of the arts, and spread throughout

1⁄4 of the city of Minneapolis. What a small cadre of artists, building owners and a community

have fostered in NE is truly a work of art in itself; one that countless cities in the U. S. and

abroad can only dream of replicating (did I mention the #1 Arts District designation in USA


And this brings me to the tinges of trepidation; the changing landscape of success. The

conversion of emptied industrial and commercial spaces into arts manufacturing spaces has

brought a wealth of economic and cultural life to NE, and a host of artists and visitors to local

businesses. Economic vibrancy, when sustained, has a way of spreading! For example, the

flourishing population that will descend on NE during the third weekend in May will want to eat,

have drinks, and participate in all that NE has to offer as they migrate through the studios to view

the artist’s creations. The community’s businesses (many of whom chose to be in NE because of

the vibrancy of the arts activity) are happy to abide. Yet, although this is the way arts driven

economic development is supposed to work, there have been bumps in the road as the artists and

businesses traverse this new and changing landscape of success. Artists worry that the intent and

focus of Art-A-Whirl is diminishing in the cacophony of the community-wide celebration, while

the small cadre of workers and volunteers that endeavor to put on the event struggle to maintain

the arts focus for their artist members...on a shoestring budget.

The size and scope of Art-A-Whirl...from the sale of ads to fund the production of the artist

guide, to the marketing and PR that is necessary to continually attract the over 30,000 visitors to

the artist’s studios in May, to the grant writing and sponsorship ‘asks’, to the recruiting and

managing of a team of contractors and volunteers...necessitates and year-round effort. Our

members, many of whom work diligently at this effort, fear having this hard work coopted and

therefore view some of the activity within the community with trepidation. In the main, the arts

community’s concern is that rather than supplement the open studio arts focus, street closings,

congestion, and noise might dilute the experience of viewing and buying art.

On the other hand, much of the activity in NE during Art-A-Whirl weekend does lend to the

vibrancy, and it offers opportunities for income and profit to a host of non-Art-A-Whirl

entrepreneurs, workers, and artisans. So, to the benefit of everyone in NE I think it remains

important to reflect on just what is responsible for the creation of this successful landscape of

opportunity that well over 30,000 people want to immerse themselves in during Art-A-Whirl.

The ARTS! It’s the work of the building owners that produces the impressive inventory of

studios in NE. It’s the work of the artists that transforms the studios into small businesses...the

entrepreneurial spaces where the production of arts products takes place...and during Art-A-
Whirl, is made available for sale to the public. And it is through the work of the building

owners, artists and community that Art-A-Whirl has grown to be an anticipated weekend of art

and celebration in May.

The intent of Art-A-Whirl 20 years ago was to throw open the studio doors so that visitors

could view and buy art. By maintaining the focus of this intent, everyone within the community

can greatly diminish the traces of trepidation. Artist Aldo Moroni suggested in an open letter to

the NE community that buying a piece of art from a NE artist during Art-A-Whirl would be the

“neighborly” thing to do, and I could not agree more. I would go one step further, however, to

suggest that the way to ensure all the benefits and celebration of NE during the third weekend in

May continues is to communicate and cooperate with, and support NEMAA, the tiny and mostly

volunteer non-profit organization that puts on Art-A-Whirl. We welcome any and all signs that

the NE community is thriving and profiting through this artist membership organization’s efforts

to promote Art-A-Whirl and the work of its artist members. And I can unabashedly state, as a

supporter and volunteer with NEMAA, that we also welcome and any and all efforts to reward

that opportunity to thrive and profit during Art-A-Whirl through a reciprocal and fiscal gesture of

support of the artists and NEMAA!

So, let us now commence with the excitement once anticipation of the 20th year of




No comments:

Post a Comment