Fall 2017 News

As promised, here’s a fuller update of what I have been working on this year.

You can see in the photos that there has been a lot of progress on the neon sign. I am planning to install this weekend, if the weather will cooperate. The opening reception will be at the Soap Factory on Saturday, October 14 from 7-10pm. If you are in the Twin Cities, please come out and say “hello”.

This is the final week of the crowdfunding campaign for the sign. I am really humbled by all the support so far. If you haven’t checked out the Kickstarter page, please do, and if you can pledge to the project, even better. As I write this, there’s only $500 left to raise – any pledge helps! And backers will get a preview of the finished sign via photo before it’s unveiled to the public.

UPDATE 10/12/2017: The Kickstarter was successful! Thank you so much to everyone who contributed. Look for images on the project page by the end of the year.

In January and February I was able to attend formal mediation training to support the participatory artwork I do. I attended Civil Mediation Training and Circle Training at Community Mediation and Restorative Services in New Hope, Minn. Since then, I’ve been observing sessions, and it’s a really intense process to be part of. Next week I’ll be volunteering in Hennepin County Schools, where the emphasis is on restorative justice processes, supporting students as they develop their own ways to resolve conflicts.

I’ve also been involved with more public engagement consulting. In April, I worked with the Department of Community Planning and Economic Development again for another event as part of the 2040 comprehensive plan. For this event I designed several activities to gather input about how housing in Minneapolis can help close the equity gap. Last week, CPED city planners and I presented this work at the American Planning Association statewide conference in Mankato, Minn.

Both the mediation and public engagement work take a lot of energy, but I find them to be good complements to my artmaking. In both mediation and pubic engagement work, the processes offer opportunities to try ideas in a much more immediate feedback loop; I can see very quickly if A or B is the best approach. These projects also have definitive goals and endpoints. This is something that is not part of my artmaking methodology, where I try to keep things more open for participant input on the process itself. It is a more immediate gratification from the work, which is a nice change of pace. And of course they are both about facilitating communication, so they tie into my general interest in civic engagement as well.

That is all for now; it will likely be 2018 before I write again.

Be Part of my “Collectively” by Sponsoring a Project

I’ll be writing again in a few weeks with a full update about what I’ve been working on, but today I have a special request: I need your support for a project.


I’ve been commissioned by the Soap Factory gallery in Minneapolis, Minnesota to produce a neon sign for their roof.

The message – Collectively we support your Autonomy – comes specifically from lessons I learned during my participatory projects in Germany, but I also see it as representative of my artistic mission in general, as well as the larger relationship between society and the individual.

I could not pick a better location for a message that raises questions about the world we want to live in and how we see each other in it. The location is highly visible to a broad public – the Soap has over 20,000 visitors a year and is located in a densely-populated neighborhood just two blocks from the Mississippi River and other local attractions. Additionally, there is a visual relationship to historical rooftop neon signs in the area.

Be a part of my “collectively” by helping to sponsor the project. I need to raise $3700 to cover additional fabrication costs. I do not normally work over my budget, but in this case, the aesthetic compromises to stay within the budget would have been too large for what is to me a very important project.

This is exciting new territory for me artistically. My work in public space is normally short-term or ephemeral, and this would be my first long-term installation. The sign will be unveiled October 14th and remain in place for at least one year.

Please visit the Kickstarter page I’ve set up for the project and consider a donation of whatever amount is possible for you. I’ve created a number of gifts to thank you for your sponsorship including original art related to the project.


Thank you in advance for your support, and I’ll be writing again shortly with more news, including a reminder for the October 14th unveiling celebration for the sign.


Elevation drawing of a Tred Company rambler houseMy studio residency at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts is coming to an end, and it culminates in a two-person exhibition with the other artist-in-residence,Kit Leffler Reaching backward, reaching forward: Tracing Histories will run January 7 through February 4, 2017 at the art center (6666 East River Road, Fridley, MN 55432). If you are in the Twin Cities, there will be an opening reception on Sunday January 8 from 1-4pm and an artists’ talk on Sunday January 22 at 2pm.

I’ll be showing an installation developed from the interviews I conducted with Fridley residents. Fridley is fairly emblematic of US suburbs in general – it was founded during the post-WWII boom and now has an aging population and increasing racial and ethnic diversity. As the recent US election shows, the fear, racism and xenophobia I heard in conversations are also typical, though that’s not all there was. I’m still working on the installation, so I’m not sure exactly how these aspects will be reflected in it, but the culture of fear and restorative nostalgia I encountered feel like themes that will continue to be relevant for some time.

Other things I’ve been up to since my last post:

At the moment, it’s hard not to feel like planning for art is more inconsequential than normal, but I’m still hoping to work in my studio more next year, reflecting on some of these participative processes in which I’ve been involved. Fingers crossed that there’s still some meaning in that.

Spring 2016 News

1000 Little Things at Winona State UniversityI can’t believe it’s been 6 months since the exhibition of 1000 Little Things in Winona, but it has. In fall, I said that I’d post photos from the show, and you can find them here as well as a video highlighting the audio archive here. Eventually the work will be documented on this site as well.

Come see where I (sometimes) work!
If you are in the Twin Cities, you can see elements from 1000 Little Things and other work during Art-a-Whirl, May 20 through 22. My studiomate Jane Powers and I will have our space open for Northeast Minneapolis’ yearly studio tour on Friday from 5-10pm, Saturday from 12-8pm and Sunday from 12-5pm. She and I will be taking turns (wo)manning the space, so send me a message if you want to be sure to meet. We’re located in the Casket Arts Building at 681 17th Ave NE, Minneapolis in studio #4 on the Lower Level (fancy name for basement).

Research continues with my residency at Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts in Fridley. I’ve interviewed a number of long-term and newer residents about their relationship to the city. Their experiences, while certainly individual, echo national trends about feelings of increased isolation and insularity in suburban living and a desire for more urban amenities. Right now I am connecting with groups in Fridley whose stories may not be as well represented to see how we can bring those stories to the public — BLCA just installed a programmable digital sign by its East River Road entrance, so that offers some intriguing possibilities.

The Free Speech Machine was also busy early this year. Audio from multiple events in January and February is up on the blog and we got a small mention in an article about Ready Go, a service that helps connect non-profits and other groups to artist-designed communication tools.

At the end of February this year, I attended a lettering workshop in Mazeppa, Minnesota with famed signpainter Mike Meyers. I’ve always been a sucker for good signs, but now my obsession has reached a whole new level – especially aided by the convenience of a cellphone camera. So I’ll leave you with a few recently spotted gems.

Morgan Camera Shop in LA
Beauty Shop sign in Baltimore
National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Baltimore
National Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Baltimore
LA fabric district
LA fabric district
Shopping Center in LA

Fall 2015 News

I’ve been meaning to send an update on what I’ve been doing since returning to the US. After taking some time to get settled, most of 2015 has been occupied with preparing for an exhibition that will finally be opening next month.

Post-WWII globe with Leipzig marked by a pinThe show, titled Das Fundbuero – 1000 Little Things, opens Wednesday, November 18th in the Paul Watkins Gallery on the campus of Winona State University in Winona, Minn. The opening begins with a public lecture from 4-5pm followed by a reception in the gallery.

I have really enjoyed developing the installation, as it’s given me the opportunity to process the experiences and information I collected in Weimar and Leipzig during six years of projects dealing with East German history. Watkins Hall is a mid-sixties modernist building with a terrazzo floor and glass doors that makes a great space for the installation, which combines objects and interviews collected while working on Das Fundbuero with contemporary objects from the US and newly built sculptural components.

I have been thinking a lot about the role of nostalgia and the desire for a simple historical narrative, as well as questions about documentation and presentation of participatory artwork after the fact. The installation lets me work with these ideas more directly than was possible sometimes in the participatory projects in Leipzig. I’m looking forward to seeing the complete installation, since my studio is only big enough to work on segments of it at a time. Even better, as I continue to work, I continue to have more ideas for how to interpret and present Das Fundbuero  – who knew making objects would continue to be part of my artistic process.

Minnesota Legacy Amendment Logo Minnesota State Arts Board LogoThe show is supported in part by a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, or to make it all legal:  Monica Sheets is a fiscal year 2015 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation from the arts and cultural heritage fund.
Thank you Minnesota taxpayers!

In September, I began an 18-month residency with Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts in Fridley, Minn. The arts center is about 6 miles from my apartment in Minneapolis, but it’s location in Manomin Park at the confluence of Rice Creek and the Mississippi River makes it feel much farther away. One of my goals during the residency is to adapt and expand the sort of participative work I was doing in Germany. I am particularly interested in how Fridley lacks a clear civic “center”, though there are lots of beautiful parks and shopping centers with idiosyncratic tenants like an honorary Romanian Consulate and a great Bosnian supermarket. I am interested in how this de-centeredness affects people’s sense of community and identification with the city. The residency culminates in an exhibition at the arts center in early 2017.

I’ll be posting images of 1000 Little Things on facebook and my website after the opening. If you’re in the area, I hope you can visit the exhibition in Winona or come see me at Banfill-Locke.