SCHOOLS – Art sale enriches students in more ways than one

50 professional artists team up with Washburn students to help fine-arts program artistically and financially

Nedra Nichols, a batik artist, has gathered friends and put on art shows in the metro area for the last 40 years. This year, Nichols collaborated with her son, the assistant principal at Washburn High School, to host "The 50 Artists on 50th Street" fine-art sale in the school's gymnasium, 201 W. 49th St.

Appropriately enough, 50 regional artists -- selling paintings, photographs and works made from fibers, clay and glass -- will set up shop on Saturday, Nov. 9, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For Nichols, moving the sale from her riverfront Bloomington home to a Minneapolis high school gym is just one of many transformations.

She and her friends started putting on art shows in the 1960s. They called theirs the "Good Medicine Show" and sold their work at a Minneapolis bookstore called "Nostica."

In the 1970s, they moved the sale to the Mixed Blood Theatre in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood and held a yearly sale on Mother's Day weekend.

Then in the 1980s, the name changed to "16 on the River." Nichols held the twice-yearly sale at her home on the Minnesota River for 17 years, but grew tired of hosting the large sale at her home. While having dinner with her son, she thought to ask if Washburn had a gym she could use.

Her son said yes, and the show's location and name changed once again.

Eric Schneider, Nichols' son, said the fair would show high school students a bit of the atmosphere he grew up in. "I grew up around artists, and as a kid I went to art shows all the time with my mom. Students have a hard time understanding that there's a real arts community in the Twin Cities. This will be a learning opportunity for them to interact with real artists," said Schneider.

Nichols said she didn't charge artists a fee to be in the sale, but instead required them to make a donation to Washburn.

Collectively, the artists donated $1,000 to Washburn High School's Small Learning Community (SLC) for Fine Arts. Fine Arts is one of 10 SLCs at Washburn, and one of 37 offered this year by the Minneapolis Public High Schools. Small Learning Communities, new to the district this year, place students in small groups according to specific interests.

Nancy Oikonomou, a painter and a third-year art teacher at Washburn, said the art sale could become a tradition for the Fine Arts SLC. And what's exciting for her is the interaction "50 on 50th" provides between students and professional artists. Visual art students will be paired with a professional artist mentor. During the show, students will help out at their mentors' booths.

"It will be an opportunity for [the students] to receive feedback from [professional] artists and the community," said Oikonomou. "A lot of the artists are very interested in high school students. And the [students] will be able to sit down and talk to the artists. They'll find out where they went to school, what they did."

Performing artists won't be left out; students, including jugglers and musicians, will perform throughout the sale.

Though the sale was a boon to the Fine Arts curriculum without the fundraising, Oikonomou said it adds up to about one sixth of their total fine arts budget. "Donating $1,000 means a lot to us with the budget crunch," said Oikonomou. "It means more field trips, more visiting artists and more paint and canvases for students."

IF YOU GO "The 50 Artists on 50th Street" Saturday, Nov. 9, 10 a.m-5 p.m. Washburn High School gymnasium, 201 W. 49th St.