December 6, 2012 by Sarah M
With help from church groups and others, The Art Shoppe and its artists thrive
// By Amelia Kaderabek – Murphy News Service //
At a local art show in March 2011, Raelene Ash was approached by one of the directors from the nonprofit organization A Minnesota Without Poverty and asked if she wanted to be part of an artist collective.
Ash at the time was homeless, going through a divorce, suffering from severe depression and anxiety and dealing with health complications from a batched surgery. She didn’t feel ready.
“That was a change for me, a scary change,” Ash said.
She decided to go for it and became one of the seven founding artists of The Art Shoppe, a commercial art space in the Midtown Global Market on Lake Street in Minneapolis.
This Art Shoppe was jump-started by a partnership that included A Minnesota Without Poverty, Mount Olive Lutheran Church in Minneapolis and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
The goal was to give local artists in poverty or with a disability the opportunity to display, demonstrate and sell their artwork.
The organizations talked to neighborhood groups and collaborated with the Midtown Global Market, providing business training, financing, volunteers and other resources for the new artist collective.
“We came to this point where we said are we going to do this, and we took the leap . . . We all started helping each other,” said jewelry artist Terry Day, a founding Art Shoppe member who deals with the after-effects of child polio.
“We are a team,” Ash said. “We all had our own worlds, and we are all one world now.”
The Art Shoppe had its grand opening more than a year ago and sells diversified culture folk art — everything from jewelry, prints, cards, small felt animals, purses and hand-dyed clothing.
“We really encourage diverse art. It’s what we encourage and look for,” Day said.
Ash is most famous for her “Classic Bagg Lady” line, which includes depictions of African-American women carrying bags. Drawn on brown paper or canvas bags using acrylic paints and colored pencils, her art had already become popular across the state by the time she was approached to join the artist collective..
Originally from Colorado Springs, Ash moved to Minneapolis in 1980. She felt she began to define her art, based on her experience as an African-American woman, after working at a Boys and Girls Club in 2004. She began telling stories to African-American children about her life and their shared cultural history.
Ash said the inspiration that fuels her work is constant. “Being an artist, it never leaves you; that’s a good thing about it,” she said.
She started a new line of cards with images of women turned back or to the side, drawn with markers, to represent how one identifies a person without seeing her face, focusing on how they stand and move. The big hands and feet on the women represent their struggles as black women.
Ash’s work has traveled through family members and other buyers as far as Oklahoma, California, Arizona and Washington.
“It has been an amazing road for me,” the 54-year-old artist said. “I’m learning a lot about myself, a whole lot.”
Ash wants her and her fellow artists to be just the first of many to support the Art Shoppe. “We want the shop to thrive, continue,” Ash said. “I want to know that I was part of the Art Shoppe and that it continued.”
Amelia Kaderabek studies journalism at the University of Minnesota.