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 UMD Alumnus Inspires Artist Relief Fund


Artists' Relief Trust Fund

When John Steffl, (MA Art, 1984), well-known artist and former artistic director at the Duluth Art Institute, was diagnosed with life-threatening lymphoma, dozens of fellow artists and friends offered to help. Steffl’s generous response was typical for him, he asked his friends to set up a fund for other artists who face a crisis instead.

While Steffl underwent seven months of chemotherapy, often facing death, his friends and supporters went to work on the fund. This month two heartening events occurred simultaneously. Steffl’s cancer is now in remission and an Artists' Relief Trust Fund has come into being.

The trust fund will provide emergency help for artists in all media in the Arrowhead Region. It will financially assist artists in crisis—not just from illness, but also other catastrophes.
A benefit exhibition is being presented for the month of March 2005 at several Duluth area art spaces. The Duluth Art Institute, North Shore Bank of Commerce (NSBC), Lizzard’s Art Gallery, North End Arts Center, Northern Prints Gallery, Sivertson Gallery and Waters of Superior all feature donated works for sale. The entire cost of each piece will go directly to the relief fund. NSBC will continue to support the ART Fund through permanent wall space in the main lobby.

Peter Spooner, Tweed Museum of Art curator, who is on the board of the newly formed fund, said, “For decades, John worked behind the scenes to advocate for the arts as a whole. He brought quality work by new and mature artists into the spotlight. That effort had an impact of the community and the Tweed.” Some of Steffl’s early ceramic work is part of the Tweed collection and just a year ago, Steffl presented an artist lecture to UMD students at the Tweed.

“It is an unfortunate event that has a fortunate outcome,” said Spooner. “John was suddenly diagnosed with cancer just at the time of a career transition. He was underinsured. His story is the story of other artists who have no safety net.”

On Saturday, March 5, the North Shore Bank of Commerce show opened. Steffl was there. “As I was recovering from abdominal surgery I saw very few people. In fact I’ve had minimal contact with friends and family because I’ve been cautioned not to get ill, so coming out for the exhibition opening was a delight,” he said. “It was profoundly moving to hear the feelings of love, concern, and care expressed for me. More than that, the exceptional quality of work bowled me over. The variety of work brought tears to my eyes.”

Steffl said the fund is important to the area’s future. “When a person believes they are dying, its amazing how often they think of the future. When I think of the future of the arts, it brings me solace that there will be this fund. It’s an important part of the arts community.

For more information on the fund, contact the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council, 1301 Rice Lake Road, Duluth MN 55811,,

Written by Cheryl Riana Reitan. Posted March 7, 2005

Cheryl Reitan, Publications Director,
NEW RELEASES, UMD media contact, Susan Beasy Latto,, 218-726-8830


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