Heart of the Beast's Spieler wins McKnight artist award

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Minneapolis puppet master Sandy Spieler was named the recipient of this year's prestigious McKnight Distinguished Artist Award, the McKnight Foundation announced.

The 61-year-old Spieler is the artistic director of In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre, as well as the founder of the annual May Day Parade.

Each year the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award recognizes a Minnesota artist for the quality of their artistic work in addition to cultural impact on the state and people in the community. The winner is awarded $50,000 and honored with a celebration and publication of the artist's work.

"When they told me, I thought, ‘But I’m not 70 yet,’” Spieler told the Star Tribune. “The second thing I thought was it can’t be just about me. It’s about all the people who’ve come through here and given their all to this work.”

In the announcement, Kate Wolford, president of the McKnight Foundation, called Spieler "an artist of true distinction" who expresses through art "an enhanced reflection of the reality around her, and around all of us."

Spieler and her giant puppets and papier-mâché sculptures demonstrate a departure from previous winners who came from fields like poetry and acting, the Star Tribune says.

"She really marries a sophisticated and highly compelling visual aesthetic to theatrical works that explore social questions relevant to the times we live in," Philip Bither, one of the five judges of the award, told MPR. "In doing so she's elevated the art form of puppetry."

Over 40 years ago Spieler moved to south Minneapolis and became actively involved in art and the community, MPR said. She began working at Powderhorn Puppet Theatre in 1973. Within a few years, Spieler was running the theater and renamed it In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre.

"That theatre has prospered and become as good as it has because of Sandy," David O'Fallon, founder of the Powderhorn Puppet Theatre, told the Star Tribune.

Spieler is perhaps best known for In the Heart of the Beast's annual May Day Parade. The theater says the parade brings over 50,000 people to Powderhorn Park each year to celebrate the community and shed light on social issues.

Spieler is based in Minneapolis but tours around the state, country, and internationally with shows and workshops. She says her work is committed to making a difference, often focusing on the environment and economic justice.

To learn more about Spieler and her work, visit In the Heart of the Beast's website.

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