Re: Florence Biennale 2007
JM you are way ahead of a lot of artists with a very nice website and an excellent portfolio to back you up. So I'm pondering ways to cover your Florence Bienniale experience that takes advantage of your aquired artistic ability.
1) An exhibition/rental of art for an extended period at a local business, something like 10 works hung for a year at $200 a month (x12=$2400) a fee you will need in full of course because you are going to Italy. A large bank or similar institution would be a good place to approach, telling them what you are raising money for and it's mutually beneficial. You can also offer these guys a 20% discount as a purchase incentive, remember a gallery takes 50% of sales so this incentive is still a positive incentive for both of you.
2) Public speaking, approach local groups such as Lions Club, Kiwanas, DAR, womens clubs, Arts groups etc. in the Minneapolis area with a proposal to give a slide presentation about your travels to Italy when you return, they are looking for programs for their meetings and your adventures will fit right in. Of course you need the Honorarium ($500+) in advance because the whole point of this is partial funding of the excursion to Florence.
If you are working a deal with business people (#1 & #2) ask for more than you expect, leaving room for negotiation and letting tham know you are flexible. When business people "negotiate a better deal" they feel good about the results, just like you with the financing you require. A win-win situation.
Other options to see Europe, travel a bit, soak up some culture and have an exquisite art enriching experience? Some Universities have summer programs in Italy and you are considering a grad school so check 'em out. They might have travel money and definitely are established locations over there. University of Georgia has a program in Cortona and Louisiana Tech has one in Rome, both are cheaper than doing the Florence Bienniale and you get to absorb Italy for a month or more.