After running her photography business for a decade in downtown Shakopee, photographer Amy Zellmer was ready for a change, because she felt like she didn't fit in. Many of the businesses around the area were multi-generational, and all were run by men. She was a 30-year-old woman working as an artist, and they didn't take her too seriously.
“It was really, really frustrating to not be supported by your local community,” she says.
Since moving into the Schmidt Artist Lofts in St. Paul a couple of years ago, it's been a completely different atmosphere. She joined the West 7th Business Association shortly after moving to town, and has felt nothing but welcome ever since.
“They're just so incredibly happy to see this building full of artists,” she says. “They're very, very supportive of it.”
Zellmer is one of 24 female artists participating in "Women at the Schmidt," an exhibit showcasing the work of residents in the building. It also honors Women's History Month.
Male dominance of the visual arts scene was so common in Minneapolis in the '70s that Schmidt artist Mary Beth Garrigan originally chose to follow her second passion while at the University of Minnesota: science.
“It was easier to crack into the science field than it was into the art field for some weird reason,” she says. “I don't know why, but that's why I went in the direction that I went with my degree in biology.”
While art was never far from her heart, her career in biology eventually led her to become the director of the National Eagle Center in Wabasha, Minnesota. When her husband, a fellow artist, passed away, she picked up the passion they both shared. She's an educator now, and always invokes art in her lessons.
Garrigan is also responsible for putting together the upcoming "Women at the Schmidt" exhibit. All it took was a simple phone call, and most of the participants were in.
“I just thought it would be great if all the women of the Schmidt would get together and do a show during this month,” she says.
Painter and musician Gretchen Seichrist, 51, has also struggled to find support as a female artist on the local scene. “I have received disdain and hostility in speaking or showing viewpoints that are not in sync with others," she says, "as anyone who is an 'outsider' would, I guess.”
Seichrist knows, though, that if she's experiencing hardships as an artist then it can't be any better for women of color. She thinks this is something where the Schmidt community could help lead the way.
“I'd love to see more community and family spaces, and food growing supported by the owners here,” she says. “And more outreach to black and Native young artists. Then it would really be leading the way.”
IF YOU GO:
"Women at the Schmidt"
Schmidt Artist Lofts
There will be an opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday, March 11 and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 13.
The galleries will be open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 1- 5 p.m. through March 27.
900 W. Seventh St., St. Paul