The Minneapolis Institute of Art's first Art in Bloom, in 1984, was smaller. Fewer florists, fewer visitors, fewer dahlias.

But from the start, "flowers and art were everything," said Barb Champ, co-chair of this year's floral fundraising bonanza. Forty years later, they still are. "This is absolutely the place in the Twin Cities where flowers and art meet together and create beauty and wonderful smells."

For this spring's event, held Thursday to Sunday, some 160 floral artists will create works inspired by pieces in the museum's permanent collection. Another 20 commercial florists will interpret this year's signature work: "It's a Delicate Balance" by Canadian and Indigenous artist Christi Belcourt, a delicately dotted depiction of petals and leaves, fungi and birds, many of them endangered.

Champ spotted the painting and knew: "We need to do this piece."

Belcourt was charmed by the idea of her art being made anew in flowers. "It just fits perfectly," said Belcourt, whose M├ętis community is known for its floral beadwork. She had occasionally emulated that beading in her paintings with "a few dots here and there," she said. "And then finally, in 2000, I did a canvas that was completely dots and without any line work in it.

"And I thought, 'Oh, OK. I like this.'"

Belcourt will talk about her paintings and her process at an April 25 lecture. Tickets are $25. But entrance to Art in Bloom, put on by Friends of the Institute, is free. The annual four-day event, which also includes a ticketed party, raises money for educational programs for schoolchildren, among other things.

Art in Bloom arrived in Minneapolis in 1984, after then-president of the Friends of the Institute attended a similar event at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. "Given that one of the duties of art is to faithfully record the beauty of nature, then certainly flowers are among the most likely of subjects," wrote Samuel Sachs II, the museum's former president, that year. "It is, therefore, an even more happy occurrence when the flowers themselves become the art."

Despite a lack of publicity, the event did well, raising $40,000. It became a rite of spring.

For years, floral artists formed a long line at the museum to claim their favorite painting, sculpture or artifact. "It became a flower fight," Mia's Ken Krenz said in 2018, describing the time two artists began beating one another with acanthus.

But now, that process plays out digitally, with an online lottery.

Six weeks before the event, florists get to meet their match, spending time with the artworks they'll be interpreting. They're given a list of rules aimed at "protecting the museum's priceless art collection." Among them: No misting. No potting soil. No live animals.

"Pollen is a critical concern and can cause permanent damage to artwork," those guidelines say. So all stamens must be clipped.

But the letter ends with gratitude: "It is because you freely share your time, talents, and resources that Art in Bloom both thrills and thrives year after year," it says. "Experience the joy!"

Art in Bloom, by the numbers

$40,000

money raised in the event's first year, 1984

$240,000

money raised in 2023

62,000

number of people who attended last year, a record

160

pedestals used to display works by independent floral artists

20

commercial floral art installations that will interpret this year's signature artwork, "It's a Delicate Balance"

250,000

dots that make up that artwork, as estimated by its artist, Christi Belcourt

12

inches required between each floral display and any artwork

90

percentage of a floral display that must be natural materials and fresh florals


Art in Bloom

What: Four-day flower festival, with lectures and other events.

When: Gallery hours Thu.-Sun. The permanent collection is open late on Saturday until 6 p.m.

Where: Minneapolis Institute of Art, 2400 3rd Av. S., Mpls.

Cost: Admission and guided tours are free.

More info: new.artsmia.org.