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Credit: Eliesa Johnson
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McKnight Names Photographer Wing Young Huie as 2018 Distinguished Artist

The McKnight Foundation has selected photographic artist Wing Young Huie to receive the 2018 McKnight Distinguished Artist Award. [See photos from the reveal]. The annual honor, now in its 21st year, provides $50,000 to a Minnesota artist who has made a significant contribution to the state’s cultural life.

“With his powerful photography and compelling public art projects, Wing Young Huie has been documenting Minnesota’s changing cultural landscape for more than 30 years in images that ask us to focus on people and places that are often overlooked,” says Kate Wolford, president of McKnight. “Whether he’s talking to a class of college students or turning entire city blocks into a public gallery space, Wing has a rare gift for challenging assumptions and inviting conversation through his unique artistic vision. We couldn’t be more delighted by the selection committee’s decision to honor a photographer who really has transformed our image of what being Minnesotan means.”

Born and raised in Duluth, Huie combined a BA in reportorial journalism from the University of Minnesota with his self-taught photography skills to become a freelance journalist and commercial photographer, before attracting national media attention and artistic recognition for his dynamic and illuminating street photography. Starting in the 1990s, Huie sharpened his artistic focus by exploring the increasingly multicultural landscape of St. Paul’s Frogtown and installed a public exhibit in an empty corner lot. Then in 2000, he turned Lake Street into a six-mile gallery, displaying hundreds of photographs in storefronts and on the side of a mammoth empty building (now Midtown Global Market).

Photos provided by Wing Young Huie

Ten years later with The University Avenue Project, he transformed a six-mile stretch of another of Minnesota’s most traveled arteries into an outdoor gallery with nightly slide-show projections and monumental images plastered on area buildings and businesses. More recently, Huie’s work has included “chalk talk” portraits, in which his subjects compose a personal statement that often exposes the divide between individual reality and public perception. “His work takes him into the daily lives of people from all walks of life, and his photos then tell the rest of us about them,” says Carla McGrath, executive director of the Highpoint Center for Printmaking and one of several arts community members who nominated Huie for the award. His seventh book, “Chinese-ness: The Meanings of Identity and the Nature of Belonging,” is slated for publication by the Minnesota Historical Society Press in October 2018.

“Wing Young Huie has been documenting Minnesota’s changing cultural landscape for more than 30 years in images that ask us to focus on people and places that are often overlooked.”

Huie, whose photographs have been exhibited from Budapest to Beijing, launched a storefront gallery, The Third Place, in a long-vacant building on Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis in 2011. He describes the project as “an urban living room for guest artists, social conversation, karaoke, and ping pong.” He also makes frequent presentations to schools, colleges, and community groups, using photography as a tool for widening perspectives on how we otherize each other. “How much of what we project onto the reality in front of us is shaped by images from pop culture, rather than direct personal experience?” Huie asks. “When I tell students that I photograph strangers, most of them—and some teachers—think it’s creepy. Then I ask, ‘How many feel you are a stranger to most of the students in your school?’ Most shoot their hands up. If we as a society, redefined what a stranger was, we would have more of a society.”

Huie was selected by a panel of community members with broad perspective and knowledge about the region’s diverse arts and cultural landscape. The panel included Lori Pourier, president, First Peoples Fund; Sandra Agustin, choreographer and arts consultant; Eleanor Savage, program director, Jerome Foundation; Rohan Preston, performing arts critic, Star Tribune; and Brian Frink, artist and chair, Department of Art, Minnesota State University, Mankato.


The Distinguished Artist Award recognizes artists who have chosen to make their lives and careers in Minnesota, thereby making our state a more culturally rich place. Although they have the talent and the opportunity to pursue their work elsewhere, these artists have chosen to stay—and by staying, they have made a difference. They have founded and strengthened arts organizations, inspired younger artists, and attracted audiences and patrons. Best of all, they have made wonderful, thought-provoking art. The goal of McKnight’s arts funding is to support working artists who create and contribute to vibrant communities. Our Arts program is founded on the belief that Minnesota thrives when its artists thrive. The Distinguished Artist Award goes to one Minnesota artist each year.


The McKnight Foundation, a Minnesota-based family foundation, seeks to improve the quality of life for present and future generations. Program interests include regional economic and community development, Minnesota’s arts and artists, education equity, youth engagement, Midwest climate and energy, Mississippi River water quality, neuroscience research, international crop research, and rural livelihoods. Founded in 1953 and independently endowed by William and Maude McKnight, the Foundation has assets of approximately $2.3 billion and grants about $90 million a year.


Molly Miles, Digital Storyteller, (612) 333-4220


McKnight staff and local artists surprising Huie at his gallery, The Third Place, with the news that he was selected as the 2018 Distinguished Artist.

Topic: Arts & Culture, The McKnight Distinguished Artist Award

August 2018