Minnesota artists will have a chance Saturday morning to air their concerns about the future of their shows at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

The Minnesota Artist's Exhibition Program (MAEP), an artist-run program housed at the museum, will host a meeting from 10:30 a.m. to noon, open to all state artists, to determine the future of the program, which has been in turmoil following the unexpected resignation this month of its coordinator, Stewart Turnquist, after 31 years.

Institute director Kaywin Feldman met Tuesday with MAEP panelists and staff to assure them of the museum's unwavering commitment to the program, but uncertainty remains.

"A lot of artists are concerned, upset, and sad about Stewart's resignation" and the impact it might have, said Megan Rie, a member of the seven-person artist panel elected annually to run the MAEP. "This program exists for all Minnesota artists, so we want to have an open forum to help guide us."

Feldman reiterated the museum's dedication to MAEP, the state's premier showcase of Minnesota talent. "We see the Minnesota artists program in the same galleries with the same level of support and the same independence" they always have had, she said.

With Turnquist gone, artists fear that the popular program could be curtailed or altered by the museum or its new curator of contemporary art, Liz Armstrong. The chief worry is that artists would no longer be able to choose and organize shows by their peers, a hallmark of MAEP since its founding in 1975. Some fear that museum officials might censor or second-guess decisions by the artists' panel.

Feldman sought to allay those fears. "The contemporary curator absolutely will not be picking MAEP artists or exhibitions," she said. Instead, the curator's role will be "to raise the visibility of the MAEP and to engage Minnesota artists in other aspects of our contemporary programming."

In fact, the MAEP is but a minor element in Armstrong's portfolio. She was hired as an assistant director of the museum, responsible for all exhibitions and programs including MAEP and a new contemporary department. The MAEP previously reported to the director's office, but was shifted to Armstrong's division in a recent reorganization. That upset Turnquist and seems to have dismayed some artists.

"Everyone has respect for Liz Armstrong; this has nothing to do with her," said Rie. "It's simply the recategorization that concerns us."

Feldman said that Turnquist's job will be posted as soon as possible, and that the museum would like MAEP artists to be involved in interviewing and selecting the new coordinator.

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431