Professor Ruthann Godollei's installation "The Wish Machine" at the SNAP Gallery in Edmonton, Alberta. (Photo by April Dean)

Wallace Professor of Art Ruthann Godollei is one of six Minnesota artists to receive a 2022 McKnight Visual Artist Fellowship. Since 1982, McKnight Fellowships have rewarded mid-career artists whose work is of “exceptional artistic merit.” Each recipient receives $25,000, chances to connect with national and international critics, and other professional development opportunities from one of the oldest and largest arts programs of its kind in the country.  

I’ve been doing social and political commentary in my artwork for a long time, and it’s not always well received,” said Professor Godollei. “That doesn’t deter me from continuing to make it, but I think we’re in a moment when people see the value in this kind of work, and so this award is a kind of affirmation for the work I do.”

Professor Godollei’s artwork is mostly text-based, sometimes on paper and often in sculptural installations. A recent example is an installation called “The Wish Machine” that she produced during the height of the pandemic. Professor Godollei solicited one-word wishes from as diverse an array of community members as possible. Then she printed two copies on letterpress – one free for the submitter and the other for the installation, the first of which was set up in the street-level windows of the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. 

“And it grew and grew and grew,” she said. 

In fact, the response was so robust that she created a different version of “The Wish Machine” in Edmonton, Alberta, where she had previously lived while on a Fulbright. At both sites, Professor Godollei said many of the wishes were for kindness, justice, and an end to hate, violence and police brutality.

“To me, this was a way to have a more equitable exchange with the  community and amplify its voices, as well as to reach out so that different people who might not always be heard could see themselves reflected in this project,” she said. 

The McKnight Fellowship’s funds are unrestricted, freeing Professor Godollei to put them to use to create even more ambitious projects that will almost certainly challenge viewers and spark reactions.  

“I always joke that when the wars end and the social policies support the people who need it most, I can turn to making flowers and birdies and all that,” she said. “But at the moment, it’s still the desire to see social changes that motivates me.”

In addition to Professor Godollei, visiting professor Amanda Lovelee, and Pao Houa Her, a former visiting professor, were among this year’s cohort of McKnight Visual Artist Fellows. 

About the McKnight Foundation

Established in 1953, the McKnight Foundation is a Minnesota-based family foundation that is deeply committed to advancing climate solutions in the Midwest; building an equitable and inclusive Minnesota; and supporting the arts in Minnesota, neuroscience, and international crop research. 

June 30 2022

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