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Bringing Art to St. Louis Park

Robyn Awend sits down for a Q&A with St. Louis Park Patch.

Robyn Awend, director of visual arts at the , is one of the reasons why St. Louis Park still has a strong arts community. I sat down with her this week for a discussion about the role that art plays, both in her life and at Sabes.

St. Louis Park Patch: First off, what's your background in the arts?

Robyn Awend: I went to school at the University of Arizona, where I studied fine arts and got my undergraduate B.A. When I went to graduate school at the University of Texas in Dallas, I was working towards an M.F.A. in printmaking. During my time there I ended up assisting the gallery director at the university and fell in love with gallery work. I came to realize that I was equally passionate about working with artists in a gallery setting as I was making my own work. 

St. Louis Park Patch: What brought you to Sabes from Texas?

Awend: When I finished grad school, I moved back home to Minnesota. One of the first places I decided to revisit was the JCC because I grew up going there. I knew they had a gallery and thought it would be (fun) to volunteer with that.

St. Louis Park Patch: So you went from volunteer to director of visual arts?

Awend: When I started in 2005, I was assisting the JCC's quarter-time gallery coordinator. When she moved on, I got hired into her position and slowly it grew. We have a great family, the Tychman Shapiro family, who has their name on the gallery. We initially had a meeting and they decided they really wanted to revitalize the gallery to make the visual arts a really important part of the JCC. It's been about six years now and the progression of that has been really exciting. I'm an artist myself and I'm also interested in finding connections to my Jewish identity, so working here is like a dream job.

St. Louis Park Patch: As arts director, what is your role? Planning exhibits? Brainstorming new ideas for the visual arts?

Awend: Basically throughout the year, we receive applications from artists. I do have a committee as well, and each year we meet to talk about what ideas we'd like to see for the space and what we think the community might want. I also do a lot of research and try and think about what hasn't been done. For example, the exhibit back in November was something I'd been wanting to do for a long time.

Also, we have a show going on now through April 28, the Kabbalah exhibit. It's called "Envisioning the Infinite." It's this group of Jewish women who have a study group and they're all artists. What they do is pick a topic, study it and make a piece based on their studies. They came to me and we worked out the current show. It's interesting because we agreed on the idea of Kabbalah—the study of Jewish mysticism. This is something that was considered so complicated that you had to be a certain level of scholar to even begin to study it. They came here and our committee loved the idea.

St. Louis Park Patch: You said you've been here six years. What's your fondest memory thus far?

Awend: I guess it's hard to choose one. But I would say that some of my favorite moments are watching the kids come and interact with the works and use the gallery as a learning tool. I mean, how many schools can say they have a gallery with changing exhibits on site? And they come and use it as a learning tool for color, shape, form, how to respect art, how to view art, how to act in front of artwork, what is appropriate, and how to talk about it. Art can be a very intimidating and complicated media if it isn't in your life on a regular basis. I think for me, it's seeing the young kids come and start their relationship at a young age. Art is getting cut out of a lot of school curriculums, so any way youngsters can get exposed to it is really important. 

St. Louis Park Patch:  What is next for you and the JCC?

Awend: I'm glad you asked that, as we've got a few exciting things coming up. There's a one-day event coming up May 3 called J'Outique.  We really wanted to put together a boutique with local artists. We're going to have 25 local artist vendors with pretty much every media—glass art, mosaic, pottery, ceramics, wall art, jewelry and even some gourmet food. We're hoping to make this an annual event. It's the first time we've done something like this in this way and we're hoping to really get some support for these artists. It is free and open to everyone. 

St. Louis Park Patch: Got anything else for our readers?

Awend: I just want to say we feel very lucky here to have the Tychman Shapiro (Gallery). It's in a very apparent place on the campus and I think that helps in its ability to affect more people. And that's one of our main goals here, to give more people more exposure to art.  

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