Where Are They Now: Art Alum Anna Becker

A Q&A with the Executive Director of arts nonprofit NEMAA, the organization that hosts Art-A-Whirl among other events.
Smiling white woman with diamond shaped earrings on white background with red and yellow "Q&A

As the Department of Art prepares to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Regis Center for Art, we've reached out to some Art alums to learn about their time here when Regis first opened and the careers they’ve created with their art education since.

A crowd of people walking past old buildings, food trucks, and vendor tents at an outdoor fair
Attendance topped 100,000 at Art-A-Whirl 2023, the 28th annual weekend festival organized by NEMAA. Photo courtesy of NEMAA.

Hi Anna! You graduated in 2004 and now you are the Executive Director of the Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association. Can you tell us more about NEMAA and what your role involves?

The Northeast Minneapolis Arts Association (NEMAA) is an artist member organization with over 1,400 members. We are best known for producing Art-A-Whirl, the largest open studio tour in the nation, but we organize, advocate for, and promote artists year-round. As executive director of an arts nonprofit, I've worn all the hats: marketing, finance, programming, you name it.

You were a double-major in Art & English. How do you think your time studying studio art prepared you for your current career? Was there a specific artistic discipline that you focused on during your time here, and do you still make artwork?

I took drawing, photography, and art history classes while I was at the U, and I got a lot out of all of them (some of my instructors then are NEMAA member artists now, which is cool). Towards the end of my sophomore year, working with clay struck a chord. I really wanted to make things that could be used functionally on a regular basis. 

I was a working ceramic artist for a decade, cobbling together different part-time jobs in different fields to make ends meet. I was originally hired at NEMAA because I had the duality of being a working artist but also someone with experience on the business side of things.

Alas, the demands of my job and life meant that I had to let studio art go a few years ago. I still use my creative side often in my work, so that part of my brain is still getting flexed. The door is still open for making more personal art, but I need to make time to walk through it. 

You were a student here when the Regis Center first opened. What do you remember most about transitioning from the old building to the new one?

We shared the old building with a healthy population of rodents; the sculpture students had to wrap their clay models extra tight to keep paw prints off of them. There were owls roosting in the rafters, mice in the lockers. But by the time I started school we knew a new building was being built for the Art Department (I saw the construction from my dorm at Middlebrook), so everyone was very excited.

The new building was pristine and spacious. A glaze bay with the ventilation vacuums! The massive kiln room! There were snug class rooms for clutches of grad students and an auditorium for presentations. As a student I admired it, but I also took it for granted. Now that I have more experience with how precious space to make art—and present art, and gather with other artists—is, I think of the people who advocated for this space originally, concepted it, fundraised for it, designed it, and built it. 

Smiling people talk in a crowded art studio
Visitors connect directly with artists in their studios during Art-A-Whirl, the largest open studio crawl in the country. Photo courtesy of NEMAA.

You also work extensively with a wide network of full-time and part-time professional artists in Northeast and across the Metro area. For young artists considering a career as a studio artist, is there any practical advice you would give them?

Get organized. Make a schedule for art-making and admin, and stick to it as best you can. Set aside time to focus on your business plan, marketing, inventory, and grant applications. Don't run away from that stuff just because you don't like it or think you're not good at it. It's essential, and if you don't deal with it, it's going to follow you around and bite you later. Also, network and support other artists.

Is there anything you wish you could go back in time and tell yourself as a student at the U?

Nah. She did just fine. ;) 

To learn more about NEMAA, visit nemaa.org or follow them on Instagram @nemaamn.

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