Find the Next Great Artist at MCAD’s Art Sale

Imagine an art sale featuring thousands of world-class pieces from hundreds of world-class artists where no piece exceeds $1,500. Now: why imagine? It happens every year, in your own backyard.

This year MCAD Art Sale takes place the weekend before Thanksgiving, as it has every year for 25 years. The crowd begins to gather around 5 p.m. for the official kick-off at 6 p.m. Many in the bubbling crowd of buyers behind the velvet rope crane collars to spot the right painting, the right print hanging on the wall, edge to edge salon style. There are big names in there, at a great price. There’s the shock of the new in there, at a great price. Maybe you could get a piece from the next Julie Buffalohead, who, before her work was exhibited nationally and globally, was an MCAD student herself.

“MCAD prepares passionate students to become creators, thinkers, and contributors to our community,” said Cindy Theis, Vice President of Institutional Advancement at MCAD. “The sale is a chance for the community to come in and say, I support you. Did you know that the Target bullseye was made by an MCAD veteran? The Lake Harriet Japanese Garden Bridge? Who designed your Room and Board coat rack? Do you know Greg Hoffman, the great creative director of Nike? Did you see Lizzo at the Grammys? This is the design work of Quinn Wilson, an incredible [MCAD alum] creative director. In my opinion, most people in Minneapolis or St. Paul interact with something that came out of MCAD every other day and just don’t know about it,” says Theis.

Buyers with assistants and apartments to decorate arrive from New York for the sale. It’s a must-have for everyone from local gallerists to glamorous girls from Edina, sporting photos of the living room couch and the measurements of the empty space above to art school students themselves.

Each student and alumnus who graduated within the last five years can have 25 pieces for sale. If they have more work, they can restock. This year, the art exhibition will also feature works by former graduates over the past 25 years, which can display up to 10 pieces in total. MCAD helps prepare students for this time by helping them learn how to evaluate work, evaluate work for sale, and view it as a career-building marketing and branding opportunity.

“When I was a student, I would stand by my paintings and chat,” recalls Sarah Wieben, an abstract painter and MCAD alumnus who now works from a studio in the Northrup King Building and also teaches at MCAD. “I think I was the second highest earner a year, and that made all the difference in the world to me and my debt. You can meet the various gallery owners and designers who buy the sale, and the people I met there became the way I made a living in the future. Sometimes I feel like saying, “Artists are generous by nature, but we’re so approached for donations, we’re the poorest and we should sell work, not give it away! That’s why I love the MCAD student art sale. Then you’ll see people in Rainbow Chinese or Black Forest, Little Tijuana, celebrating, “I just sell for $5,000 worth of work! Now I can eat; now I can buy more canvas!’”

For the event, MCAD takes 20% of the running costs of the event and puts whatever is left into the scholarship fund. Artists win 80%.

“I was teaching when I was a student and I earned up to half my salary this weekend,” recalls Gregory Euclid, one of 150 former participants who graduated over the past 25 years who have been invited to this year’s sale. “I was hearing who actually bought it from the framers: ‘Oh, this one goes to the Dayton boys; it goes to the Cargill estate in Palm Springs. It’s kind of funny, because the legend among Minneapolis artists is that if somebody here has $20,000 to spend on art, they fly to New York or Los Angeles or wherever and buy works there. Because they think they’re buying more important or relevant art because they’re out of town. In this dynamic, the MCAD Art Sale kind of breaks the rules because since people think they’re getting work cheaply, they think they can buy it here.

It is a tradition with deep roots. The Minneapolis College of Art and Design was originally established as part of the Minneapolis Society of Fine Arts with Mia in 1886. In 1988, after more than 100 years of partnership history, the sister organizations separated, making MCAD one of the few works of art. and design schools around the country, alongside Rhode Island School of Design and Parsons School of Design in New York. Today, MCAD powers the local furniture design and advertising and marketing communities, many of their employees – Room and Board and Target are especially teeming with MCAD alumni.

“MCAD prepares passionate students who become the creators, thinkers, and collaborators of our community.”

Cindy Theis

[MCAD has] a multidisciplinary approach,” says Euclid, who now lives in Saint-Pierre and whose work has appeared in galleries in Paris, New York, Los Angeles and many other cities. “You can learn to weld anywhere, but only the kind of welding I wanted to do from an artist. Vacuum forming. Aluminum casting. Acrylic puzzle. What’s unique about MCAD is that they never want you to say “I’m a painter” and ignore everything else. I’m teaching now, and I’ll ask my students, ‘OK, you’ve decided to draw a person or a flower. But why on a square of paper? Because squares fit in boxes, fit in shipping containers? What if you didn’t want a square? MCAD would say, ‘How about making your own paper? And if the best way to say what you want from this flower was performance, then maybe you pull out a video camera? Understanding art as a force and having the skills to express it is the hard work, and that’s what MCAD makes happen.

Last year, approximately 6,000 works of art informed by MCAD teachings were sold during the sale, which was virtual due to the pandemic. This year’s event is a return to in-person sales. The VIP opening party is on November 17, with a price of $150, but lets you be the first choice in the sale. The second night is the most popular, with a $25 ticket, DJs, and the biggest crowd. On the third day, for real bargain hunters, entry is free.

“Remember to tell everyone how powerful it is to come in, with this visual overload – an absolute ocean of artwork,” says Wieben. “It’s such a powerful moment. Each time, a wide smile instantly appears on my face. This is the art of today!

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