Sandy Spieler

Fellowship: 15 Years Out

Sandy Spieler (BF’02) wears many hats. A professional artist, Spieler works through several mediums, including paint, clay, stage performance and more, and serves as a leader in various arts organizations in the Twin Cities. Of her many titles, though, the most important is her role as a perpetual student.

In 1986, support from the Bush Artist Fellowship program allowed Spieler to build a foundation for her artistry. At the time, she had no formal training or education in the field, and she lacked the resources she needed to establish her craft.

“I had this inner sense of what I wanted to do, but I couldn’t quite coalesce it,” Spieler says of her experience as a young artist. “With the support from the Bush Foundation I felt like the earth was underneath my feet.”

Sandy Spieler
Illustration by Allegra Lockstadt

I’ll take on investigations of things that I just have little inklings of."

When she applied for a Bush Fellowship in 2002, Spieler was more established as an artist, but she remained weary and felt a need to “go to the well and take a long drink.”

The Fellowship allowed her to travel to England and earn a master’s degree in cultural performance from Bristol University. At the time, Spieler was intrigued by all forms of expression, so the course was a perfect fit for her inquisitive mind.

During her time in England, Spieler discovered that her work — whatever medium it manifests in — is largely built around a singular topic. She gives the example of water as a theme that has been central to her work for years.

“In general, my work has always been content driven,” she explains. “I’ll take on investigations of things that I just have little inklings of, and sometimes it grows into something massive.”

All along the way the people who have walked with me and who have supported me deserve the thanks."

Perhaps the perfect example of Spieler’s creative process is the annual MayDay Parade and Festival, an artistic celebration put on by Minneapolis’ In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, which Spieler co-founded and where she currently serves as an artistic director. On the first Sunday in May, MayDay brings people from the community together around a theme, creating hand-built puppets, costumes, performances and more, to present a grandiose artistic expression in response to the chosen theme. 

In addition to her dedication to MayDay and In the Heart of the Beast, Spieler is internationally recognized by organizations and artists. In fact, she received the McKnight Foundation’s Distinguished Artist Award in 2014.

“I accepted that award humbly, and I know that all along the way the people who have walked with me and who have supported me deserve the thanks,” Spieler says. “One of those thanks belongs to the Bush Foundation for supporting artists, and for supporting an artist like me.”

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The Fellowship is a recognition of extraordinary achievement and a bet on extraordinary potential, with up to $100,000 to invest in leadership development.