Greetings from Vesterheim! I wanted to take time to go through some of the improvements and changes we’ve made for this year. To start, we’ve given the exhibit a mission to clarify its purpose and to ensure it fits with Vesterheim’s mission: The mission of the National Norwegian-American Folk Art Exhibition is to celebrate the past, present, and future of folk art by encouraging and inspiring established and emerging artists to develop their craft.
If pictures are worth 1000 words, then videos are probably worth a million. This year, we’re going to record video of the judges’ conversations about each piece, which we’ll share with the artists whose work is being critiqued. These videos will not be publicly available in 2018. We tested this last year with a handful of rosemalers and, based on the feedback we got, we think you’ll love this new format and find the videos exponentially more informative than the paper comments.
We’re also looking for new ways to connect museum guests to your work. You’ll notice an entirely revamped registration form, with fields to provide more details about what inspired you to make your piece and to write an artist bio. We encourage you to make good use of those fields and include as much rich and detailed history as possible to connect guests with your work!
We also added a new Metalworking category to the exhibit this year. If we call this exhibit the “National Norwegian-American Folk Art Exhibition,” then it is critical that it represents all of the different Norwegian-American folk art being made today. So, over the coming years, we hope that new categories will be added to increase the diversity of work on display.
We are always evaluating our programs and over the next year we’re going to be looking closely at how our exhibits program can better serve the needs of the museum’s stakeholders. In order to get the best feedback from our different audiences, we wanted to have a different exhibit in each galley over the summer. This exhibition usually takes up two galleries, so we need to squeeze it into one this year. We decided to put it on the first floor so that it’s the first thing our summer guests see.
Because we’re adding a new category and moving the exhibition into a smaller gallery, we will only be able to accept one piece per artist this year. After the exhibits evaluation is done this summer, we’ll have a better sense of when we can go back to accepting two entries. We know that some of you already have two pieces ready to send, so this is probably surprising news. Remember that you can send pieces painted in the last three years, so if you’re having trouble choosing which one is your favorite, you can always send the other one next year.
Finally, in an attempt to ensure this exhibit is more financially sustainable, we need to charge all artists, including Gold Medalists, a $20 entry fee. Last year, the cost of judging, ribbons, and prize money was over $1400 more than what the museum brought in from entry fees and commissions on sales.
You’ll also notice that every category except rosemaling is explicitly accepting contemporary expressions of traditional Norwegian folk art this year. We heard that artists would like to have more freedom of self-expression. They would like to submit work that is rooted in tradition, but that allows them to build on (or diverge from) that tradition in ways that are personally meaningful. There was much discussion among our Folk Art Advisors about what contemporary rosemaling would look like and whether it has a place in this exhibition. Please let me know what you think contemporary rosemaling might look like, and whether you’d like to see contemporary rosemaling in this exhibit. And, if you’re interested in learning more about some of these changes, or if you’d like to offer suggestions for other improvements we can make to the exhibit, feel free to contact me at the museum.
Best Wishes in 2018.
Zach Row-Heyveld, Exhibitions Manager