People who make art don’t get salaries. Very few people, relatively speaking, buy much art. Yet as a community, we want painters to keep on painting, writers to keep on writing, dancers to keep on dancing, film makers to keep on making films, and sculptors to keep on forming objects out of clay and wood and metal.
Thankfully, for 32 years, the Bush Foundation  has been selecting up to 15 artists annually from Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota to receive a chunk of money that enables them to continue their work instead of spending all day saying, “You want fries with that?”
Tonight at Open Book , the Bush Foundation announced its selection of 2008 Bush Artist Fellows, each of whom will receive a $50,000 grant over one to two years.
The Foundation also announced a new echelon of awards recognizing mature artists who are no longer the first in line for grants: the Enduring Vision Awards. Each of three winners will receive $100,000 in funding over three to five years. It is the most exciting, most insightful ideas to emerge from any local foundation.
2008 Bush Artist Fellows
Mauricio Arango , Minneapolis - visual arts
Norik Astvatsaturov , Wahpeton, ND - traditional and functional craft arts
Matthew Bakkom , Minneapolis - visual arts
Elizabeth Day , Minneapolis - media arts
Jim Demonie , Franconia, MN - visual arts
Nathaniel Freeman , Minneapolis - media arts
Monica Haller , Minneapolis - visual arts
Mike Hazard , St. Paul - media arts
Jay Heikes , Minneapolis - visual arts
Foung Heu , St. Paul - media arts
Rollin Marquette , Minneapolis - visual arts
Craig Schlattman , White Bear Lake, MN - media arts
Tom Schroeder , Minneapolis - media arts
William Slichter , Minneapolis - media arts
Alec Soth , St. Paul - visual arts
“This is not a lifetime achievement award. It’s a grant that will sustain the work of artists who are still advancing and growing,” said Julie Gordon Dalgleish, director of the Bush Artist Program.
“The Enduring Vision Awards answer an unmet need that was identified by the artistic community when we [Bush Foundation] asked the question. This award recognizes artists who have created—are creating—a legacy,” said Kathy Tunheim, chair of the Bush Foundation board.
At the awards ceremony—a program remarkable in its brevity and sincerity—we got to see the artists’ work in a video montage by 2005 Bush Artist Fellow Teresa Konechne . And I admit that in my mind, I went on a shopping spree. I can’t help it. Art before groceries….
What struck me about the video was every artist’s sense of humor, which drew chuckles throughout the presentation. I’m impressed with anyone who keeps plugging away at their life’s work regardless of whether they’re rewarded for it.
“Who is more courageous than an artist who puts out what they have to offer and then waits to see how the world responds?” asked Peter Hutchinson, president of the Bush Foundation.
Frank Big Bear , who uses colored pencils to create his large, colorful depictions of Native American faces intermingled with the “fantastical creatures” of his dreams, quipped: “I need to learn to paint because my fingers are going out. Once I learn to paint, my arm will probably go out.”
Janel Jacobson , whose wooden, porcelain and bone sculptures are the breathtaking result of her intense awareness of nature, said: “Mom would take us on nature walks. I was a girl who was not afraid to pick up June bugs. I’d turn them over and say, ‘Look at their cute little feet! Look at their cute little eyes!’”
Walter Piehl, Jr. , whose father collected “obstinate horses that would be good for rodeo,” said that he lives in isolation, pretty much, but that it’s not a bad thing; it lets him paint his Western Americana subject matter (cowboys, horses) in the contemporary way that he imagines them. His inspiration is “the feeling of violence and energy that is so overwhelming when you ride a bucking bronco or a bull.” He says this as we see a self-portrait of Piehl jauntily smiling from underneath a 10-gallon hat brim. (Add “ride bucking bronco” to my list of things to do in my lifetime.)
Of the 485 applicants for 2008 awards in three categories (visual arts, media arts and traditional and functional craft works), certainly many were deserving of awards, and I think it must be a rare privilege as well as a mind-bending, soul-scraping task to choose the final 15, and to determine the three most influential mature artists.
The 2009 awards will focus on literary and performing arts. Applications will be accepted in the fall.
“It’s really not a gift of money—it’s a gift of time,” said Peter Hutchinson. Amen to that. I can’t wait to see what the award-winners do with their newfound freedom from cab driving and other jobs they’ve taken just to keep themselves in canvas and clay.
For more information about the Bush Artist Program, including the rigorous selection process, visit www.BushFoundation.org .