Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Jay Weiner has written a comprehensive overview for about the 10-year efforts leading up to the Nov. 4 ballot initiative known as The Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment:
"Voters to write the ending on a 10-year capitol tale about the future of the state's quality of life"

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Even the livestock are talkin' about it

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that will appear on the Nov. 4 ballot has succeeded in generating a great deal of commentary and debate throughout the state. Even animals are getting into the act.

George, a singing moose, has posted a special, two-minute message for voters on YouTube.

Vote YES! for Minnesota on Nov. 4.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Scandal v. Incompetence

Minneapolis, Minnesota

CNN often promotes its team of pundits by airing a video clip of Lou Dobbs posing the question "Doesn't anybody deserve a government that works?" When it comes to conducting presidential elections, one wonders.

Early voting started in Florida today, as it has and will in many states. Already, there are problems. Not with the voting per se (at least, not yet – stay tuned). It seems that some of the machines into which voters insert their driver's licenses to verify identity and prevent fraud are not working. As a result, people are standing in line for up to three hours waiting to vote.

Surely, Kurt S. Browning, Florida's secretary of state and chief elections officer, knew that voting would start today. Why did he not have these machines tested and in working order? Cue the allegations of voter suppression and bring on the lawyers! Because Browning is a Republican, appointed to his post in 2006 by Florida's Republican governor-elect, Charlie Crist, you just know these snafus are only the beginning of a Republican plot to steal the election for John McCain.

Up in Ohio, the Democratic secretary of state, Jennifer Brunner, already has been through the federal appeals process to the Supremes in Washington. In essence, the high court said that voter registration lists did not have to be verified against the database of driver's licenses. Hopefully, however, Brunner will have instructed her election judges to phone the cops and the media should Mickey Mouse or other suspect registrants actually show up to vote. Everyone will be watching because, you just know, the Democrats stand ready to fraudulently steal the election for Barack Obama.

You just know. Eight years after Bush v. Gore, the United States of America still cannot conduct a presidential election free from the taint of voting scandal or plain incompetence.

The whole mess is foreign to me. In Minnesota, where I vote, we fill in oval blanks on a paper ballot to indicate our voting preferences before we personally feed those ballots into a machine that counts them. Before the election judges give us a ballot, we sign our names next to our name and address on the computer printout of the registration list. Those of us who can produce sufficient identification – that proves we-are-who-we-are and live-where-we-do – can register and vote on election day. We have the highest rate of voter participation in the country, and we make it work every time.

In our primary election balloting in September, two candidates for the Minnesota Supreme Court were so close in vote totals that a statewide re-count was required for the first time since 1962. Election officials surprised even themselves by accomplishing the task in two days, rather than the several they had allotted. There were no partisan or non-partisan arguments about the process or the outcome.

Maybe in Minnesota we just understand the meaning of "Yes we can!"

Friday, October 17, 2008

Review: Minnesota Dance Theatre, Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota

For the fall performances of the Minnesota Dance Theatre, Artistic Director Lise Houlton assembled a group of dances that mirrors much of Minnesota's dance community, reflecting a diversity of choreographic impulses, a strong level of technical competence and artistic expression, and an earnest desire to impress. While the articulation of a clear and compelling purpose and vision has not been the troupe's strong suit, the present program was more cohesive and satisfying than many of its recent stagings.

The program, presented this weekend at The Lab Theater in Minneapolis's Warehouse District, offered two world premieres. Mathew Janczewski's Trébuchet was the more successful. Working with a variety of pulsing music tempos by Alexander East, Janczewski created a tight ensemble work that featured dynamic duets for Sam Feipel and Eve Schulte, and Justin Leaf and Melanie Verna, along with brief solos for each. The dance contains the large, athletic movement that characterizes Janczewski's signature style, but injected a welcome level of textured subtlety and nuance that has been absent in his modern choreography. His own company, Arena Dances, will perform next weekend at the Southern Theater.

Choreography comes less easily to Houlton. Her strong concepts benefit from decent ensemble patterns whose flow often is interrupted by awkward movement and phrasing for duets and trios. Point of Departure, her new ballet set to Haydn's Symphony No. 45, introduced a sharp and angular vocabulary that repeated and became more rounded and fluid over the course of the four movements as she connected more fully with the music's whimsy and humor. The company's three women, particularly Verna, smiled and moved gracefully in this showcase for the company's seven dancers. The men, however, were pressed to keep pace and to own the sometimes inorganic movement. An exception was Maxamillian Neubauer's solo turn in the last section when moments of personality emerged. Overall, a pleasant 30 minutes of dancing.

The choreography of Lynne Taylor-Corbett is a frequent choice for many artistic directors who came of age as dancers during the 1970s and 1980s. Her Appearances, created for the Atlanta Ballet in 1984, juxtaposed gestures and imagery that loomed large against the cool jazz music of Pat Metheny with a smooth movement texture, not unlike good yogurt! It was danced cleanly by Verna, Schulte, Leaf, Feipel, Justin Marie Miller, and Abdo Sayegh.

Excerpts from two other ballets were performed expertly by guest artists Kaitlyn Gilliland and Ask la Cour. If one must see the Act 2 pas de deux from Swan Lake yet again, it should be performed with the high level of precision and effortless partnering displayed by these members of the New York City Ballet. While technically masterful, I found their performance cold and passionless, a view my companion did not share. On the other hand, there was no dispute about the passionate commitment that coursed through the duet from Agon, George Balanchine's neoclassic classic from 1957. Gilliland and la Cour danced it exquisitely, providing the evening's artistic highpoint.

Unlike their counterparts in theater and music who enjoy larger and more consistently loyal audiences for their work, many dancemakers and dance organizations eschew the use of program notes to explain what they are about. Not so with Minnesota Dance Theatre for these performances; let us hope their inclusion continues and inspires others.

Like a good many dance organizations, Minnesota Dance Theatre's persona could benefit from a scouring of its marketing materials to remove misnomers such as "groundbreaking," "extreme," and "daring." Along with quotations from long-dead critics who have not seen the current company and its work, these should be replaced with straightforward descriptors and more contemporary commentary.

The performances this weekend were the first for dance presented at The Lab Theater which opened last month under the direction of Mary Kelley Leer. As the former empress of Ruby's Cabaret from 1985 to 1992, Leer helped birth Moore by Four, Ballet of the Dolls, and many others. The Lab's limestone brick walls and cavernous space lend the enterprise a stronger air of flexibility and solidity than did Ruby's various venues. Going forward, however, more than one ticket seller will be needed to accomodate the 350 guests who will flock to the new venue's more popular attractions; it is not acceptable for a program to begin 11 minutes past the posted curtain time.

Minnesota Dance Theatre's fall performances continue, Oct. 18 at 7pm and Oct. 19 at 2pm, at The Lab Theater, 700 North 1st Street, Minneapolis. 612.338.0627 or

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Hunter's Moon

Minneapolis, Minnesota

I want to acknowledge that the full Hunter's Moon rose several hours ago. I always find this moonlight comforting, associating it with turning inward, walking at night, and the theater. There is a story here, one that begins in 1966. Unfortunately, Gabe wants his nightly walk in the park and time is scarce. The fall foliage is particularly stunning this year, and the trees in Fair Oaks Park, across the street from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts
, are at their peak, even at night!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Nov. 4: Vote YES for Minnesota

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Chapter 1: Vote YES for Minnesota
Chapter 2: Scenes and reflections
Chapter 3: The arts's need
Chapter 4: Allocating the resources

Chapter 1. Vote YES for Minnesota

Growing up with a Republican father and Democratic mother, I developed an early propensity for telling other people how to vote. The impulse was reinforced one very rainy day when my dad and I walked door-to-door distributing leaflets that told people to vote for taxes to build schools. He told me I would take pride and satisfaction in having helped to build them. He was right. This posting continues that tradition.

On Nov. 4, Minnesotans should Vote YES √ on the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment to protect the Minnesota we love. Those voters who skip this ballot question will be counted as voting no.

YES will amend the Minnesota Constitution to dedicate funding to protect drinking water sources; protect and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; preserve arts and cultural heritage; support parks and trails; and protect and restore lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater by increasing the sales tax by 3/8 of 1% beginning July 1, 2009. The tax increase will expire after 25 years.

YES will generate $300 million annually, beginning in 2010:

• 33% for a clean water fund;

• 33% for an outdoor heritage fund;

• 19.75% for arts, arts education and access, and preservation of history and cultural heritage;

• 14.25% for parks and trails of regional and statewide significance.

Our natural heritage and arts and culture play important roles in our economy, the tourism industry, and our quality of life. They must be protected and enhanced.

will cost an average household $56 per year in sales tax. It will prevent long-term priorities from falling victim to short-term budget needs, and will produce benefits both tangible and not.

YES invests in the future of our state. Residents of that time and place will applaud our collective foresight, although our individual motivations for voting YES will vary. My own reasons are complex, hold special meaning for me, and have a particular focus on arts and culture.

Chapter 2. Scenes and reflections

Recently, I passed through several Minnesota River towns, traveling south on U.S. Highway 169 from Minneapolis to Mankato. That drive on a sputtering Saturday morning brought to mind many of the stories and things I love about Minnesota.

The city of Shakopee, 17 miles southwest of my house near downtown Minneapolis, serves as the seat of Scott County government and home to the Canterbury Downs racetrack. For decades, it also has hosted the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, a cultural state-of-mind as much as it is a geographical place. The festival serves as an imaginative commercial venue for many of our artists, crafters, and performers from mid-August through September, a time when sumac turns red and seasonal vendors along the roadsides display the enticements of apples, pumpkins, sweet corn, and potatoes – plus loads of caramel for the apples.

Past the town of Belle Plaine, one reaches Le Sueur in the Valley of the Jolly Green Giant, 30 miles from Minneapolis. Here, the Giant Celebration, known formerly as Corn on the Curb Days, takes place for three days every August.

As it passes through the Nicollet County seat of St. Peter, Highway 169 assumes the name of Minnesota Avenue. State residents worth their salt know the story of how Joseph Rolette, a senator, thwarted the attempt in 1857 to move the territorial capital from St. Paul to St. Peter when he absconded with the legislative bill that was on its way to the governor for signature. Gov. Willis Gorman is said to have owned the land on which the capitol building would have been constructed. St. Peter never became a major center of population and commerce.

The town nonetheless became an aspiration of Lutheran boys and girls after Gustavus Adolphus College set up shop a few blocks off of Minnesota Avenue. A liberal arts college of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Gustavus offers study in several artistic disciplines and hosts visiting performers on its campus.

Once upon a time, until life led elsewhere, the college and its iconic Christ Chapel beckoned to me. I have since become increasingly interested in stories about King Gustavus Adolphus, founder of the Swedish Empire during 30 years of warfare that helped preserve the Lutheran Reformation. After his death in 1632, the throne passed to his daughter, Christina. One of my Peterson forbears was among the Swedes who settled the area around Wilmington, Delaware, in the late 1630s, and named the Christina River there after the queen.

Back in present-day Minnesota, Highway 169 soon reaches the cities of Mankato and North Mankato at the place where the Minnesota and Blue Earth rivers meet. Nearly 50,000 people live in the area. I almost joined them for two years.

In 1984, I had been accepted into a Master’s program at Minnesota State University. My partner, James Davies, and I rode a Greyhound Bus from Minneapolis to Mankato to check out the city and the 303-acre campus of 14,000 students. Comparing notes at the end of the day, we learned that both of us had experienced an uninterrupted series of encounters that felt “not quite right.” After some reflection, I interpreted these encounters as “signs” and declined the invitation to study.

That decision had three major consequences in the following years. First, I increased my attendance at various dance classes, leading to more than 20 years of involvement with Minnesota’s dance world and stints as manager of Zenon Dance Company, Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre, and James Sewell Ballet. Then, I started co-hosting a radio program for more than eight years, turning my part of the show into a public affairs forum for the Twin Cities GLBT community during the development of the community’s social, political, and commercial infrastructure. Finally, I planned the trip that Davies and I took in 1986 to England, France, Italy, India, and Hong Kong.

From Mankato, Highway 169 continues south through Garden City, Amboy, and Blue Earth, before entering Iowa just past Elmore, the hometown of Vice President Walter Mondale. During a social lunch that Davies and I had with him three years ago, he mentioned that he strongly supports Mrs. Mondale’s advocacy for the arts, but wishes that orchestras played more music by Benny Goodman instead of more classical composers.

American taxpayers have invested in the development and well being of the U.S. highway system since the 1920s. I applaud the foresight of their investments. U.S. Highway 14 begins in Chicago, Illinois, and runs west to Yellowstone National Park, another taxpayer project, in Wyoming. Highway 14 intersects 169 in Mankato.

Within Minnesota, Highway 14 passes through more than 30 towns and cities, including Winona, Rochester, Owatonna, New Ulm, Sleepy Eye, Walnut Grove, Tracy, and Lake Benton. Those who have lived here for any length of time have heard of these places; lifers have visited many of them.

Winona is a college town on the Wisconsin border, home to Saint Mary’s University and the Page Artist Series, the largest presenter of performing artists in southeastern Minnesota. Rochester hosts a large presence by IBM in addition to serving as the world nerve center of the Mayo Clinic. Included among many music and theater organizations in the Rochester region is one of our strongest community theaters, the Rochester Civic Theatre.

Walnut Grove was the real life setting for the Laura Ingalls Wilder book On the Banks of Plum Creek, while Tracy received honorable mention in The Long Winter. I started kindergarten when we lived in Tracy for a year while my dad helped string telephone wires throughout Lyon County. During his visit with us in 1957, my grandpa and I searched the night sky outside our house on Roosevelt Street for a glimpse of Sputnik.

For 49 days between April and June this year, many of us cheered vicariously the unfolding adventure of Sean Bloomfield and Colton Witte. After graduating a month early from Chaska High School, this duo-with-a-dream set off to paddle 2,200 miles up the Minnesota River to Big Stone Lake, “down” the Red River to Lake Winnipeg, across that lake to the Hayes River, and then through several rapids to York Factory on Hudson Bay.

The men drew their inspiration from Canoeing With the Cree, the book by Eric Sevareid that recounted his trip with Walter Port along the same route in 1930 at age 18. After receiving his BA from the University of Minnesota, Sevareid built an international career as a print and electronic journalist and commentator. Bloomfield and Witte are now freshmen at Minnesota State University, Mankato. Reportedly, one of their next adventures will be a kayak race in Alaska. We look forward to following their adventures.

Recently, I wrote about the role that water and lakes have played in my life and in the lives of Minnesotans. My family’s camping, swimming, and fishing experiences included Lake Minnetonka in Hennepin County, Fish Lake near Cambridge, Crooked Lake in Anoka, the North Shore of Lake Superior, and lakes near Alexandria, Bemidji, Annandale, Buffalo, and Chisago City. Years ago, we caught small mouth bass while standing in the middle of the Mississippi River downstream from the nuclear power plant in Monticello. More years ago, my parents and I stood in Lake Itasca at the Mississippi’s headwaters.

One specific lake eluded me.

In the late 1960s, I ran with a crowd that had an affinity for the theater department at St. Cloud State University where many of us vowed to pursue our careers as thespians. St. Cloud is located 72 miles northwest of Minneapolis, just off I-94. Seventy miles further is Alexandria, where St. Cloud State is affiliated with Theatre L’Homme Dieu, a professional summer theater situated on Lake L’Homme Dieu. We thought – at least, I did, until life led elsewhere – that spending summers performing on the L’Homme Dieu stage would mean we had arrived in life.

The Minnesota Historical Society preserves our stories by operating archives, museums, and 26 historic sites, including the Minnesota History Center, Mill City Museum, Historic Fort Snelling, Split Rock Lighthouse, Mille Lacs Indian Museum, Charles A. Lindbergh House, and others. In addition, many of the state’s 87 counties maintain their own historical societies; I saw a couple of them on Highway 169.

I gained first-hand appreciation for the value of these repositories from my travels in Kansas rather than in Minnesota. In a journey of great discovery and insight eight years ago, supported by the Jerome Foundation, I spent two weeks reviewing old newspapers, census records, photos, and histories in Topeka, Junction City, Salina, Dodge City, Meade, and Arlington. From the individual threads gleaned at each of these stops, I was able to weave together the 360-year story of one family’s pursuit of the American Dream and to place it in the context of a nation’s effort to perfect itself.

I applaud the foresight of those who established and have maintained historical societies, large and small, in all parts of our country.

Minnesota’s 19,600 individual artists and nearly 1,600 nonprofit arts and culture organizations provide full-time jobs for more than 22,000 people. An additional 10,400 for-profit arts businesses employ more than 58,000 people. This industry generates annual state and local government revenues of $94 million, and nearly a billion dollars of economic activity.

In 2004, statewide attendance for arts and culture activities totaled 14,487,592, more than triple the combined attendance of 4,610,201 for all professional sports teams. I have enjoyed attending both arts events and sports events.

In addition to direct economic returns, our arts and culture industry attracts businesses and their employees, stimulates development, and drives tourism. Five of our top tourist draws are the Walker Art Center, Guthrie Theater, Ordway Center, Orchestra Hall, and the Children’s Theatre.

I know this scene well. With dance companies, I worked with people in more than 50 communities, as far ranging as Grand Rapids, Crookston, Morris, Fergus Falls, Scandia, Little Falls, and Ely. Over the years, I have been a member of 18 panels that reviewed arts grant applications and recommended funding. This process has made me familiar with hundreds of individuals and organizations, in all disciplines and corners of the state – Lanesboro, Duluth, and Rochester among them.

At whatever stage of their artistic development, all of these people embody the core values of artistic excellence, accountability and transparency as stewards of public resources, innovation, and respectful partnering in the intellectual and creative development of our people.

Chapter 3. The arts’s need

The legislature established the first state arts agency in 1903. Successive changes fixed its name as the Minnesota State Arts Board, and established 11 regional arts councils to distribute funds and to maintain a degree of local involvement and decision-making. Public investments in the short- and long-term health of our arts and culture industry reach all 87 counties.

Although the legislature has been episodically very generous in its appropriations for the arts, its overall investment has not kept pace with inflation and growth of field since 1977:

• The 1977 appropriation of $500,000 is worth $1.8 million in 2008 dollars. A lobbying effort by Minnesota Citizens for the Arts succeeded in raising the 1978 appropriation to $1.77 million – equal to $5.98 million in 2008. Subsequent appropriations increased or decreased modestly from 1978 until 1983, when the appropriation was cut to $1.5 million.

• The 1983 appropriation of $1.5 million was equal to $2.48 million in 1997 dollars, a year when the actual appropriation was, more favorably, $6.98 million. However, the annual appropriations in that 14-year period fluctuated, year-by-year, within a range from –7% to +52%.

• With passage of the initiative by Gov. Arne Carlson, the legislature appropriated $13 million for 1998. This was reduced somewhat to $12.6 million for 2002, and to $8.59 million for each year 2003 to 2007.

• The appropriation for 2008 is $10.33 million – 73% higher than 30 years ago, after 1978 is adjusted to 2008 dollars. The average annual rate of inflation over the 30 years was 4.14%.

• The average annual inflation rate of 2.71% during the 10 years from 1998 to 2008 makes the $13 million appropriation for 1998 equal to $17 million in 2008 and, if extended, $17.9 million in 2010.

Along with our natural heritage, the arts need a stable and protected source of funding. The YES amendment will provide that.

Chapter 4. Allocating the resources

The legislature will retain oversight of the designated funds generated by the YES amendment. It is estimated that $58 million will be generated annually for arts and culture beginning in 2010. A possible $28 million of those funds will be allocated to historical societies and cultural heritage.

It is expected, but not yet established, that the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Regional Arts Councils will serve as the legislature’s vehicles for administering $30 million of new resources for the arts. Members of those bodies have been holding conversations with artists and organizations about how the money might best be spent. I also have a list of suggestions for them to consider.

First, however, let us assume that – instead of having $30 million of new money, added to $10.3 million of existing money, making $40.3 million available for 2010 – we will have $30 million of total money actually available.

A number of factors could produce that scenario. We know that (a) the legislature that convenes in February to craft budgets for 2010 and 2011 will face a projected deficit for that biennium of at least $1 billion, and possibly as much as $4 billion; (b) the governor is loathe to raise taxes; (c) the state and national economies are in less than sterling shape; and (d) a major lobbying effort will probably be required to maintain the current appropriation. As prudent stewards, we should plan for how we will “make do” under the more conservative scenario.

My wish list begins by restoring all arts programs for 2010 to the level they enjoyed in 1998 when funding was $13 million. This will require an allocation of $17.9 million to fund the same programs for the same number of communities, organizations, and individual artists, adjusted for inflation.

The following funding increases should then be made to allow for inflation and growth of field: (a) Individual artist initiatives - $1 million; (b) Institutional organization support - $1.5 million; (c) Presenting organization support - $500,000; (d) Arts Across Minnesota touring - $500,000; (e) Arts education initiatives - $2 million.

The powers-that-will-be should make an annual grant of $250,000 to the Performing Arts Archives at the University of Minnesota. This grant should be earmarked specifically to accelerate the acquisition, processing, and retention of records for archival purposes from performing arts organizations throughout Minnesota.

Prior to 2003, the McKnight Foundation’s capital program made equipment and technical assistance grants to its grantees over and above its general operating grants. Grantees were eligible for one capital grant every five years. Applications were straight-forward, and their approval helped build an organization’s physical infrastructure, including such things as telephones that work, computer networks that can talk to each other, lighting equipment, portable floors, etc.

Anyone who has participated on a Regional Arts Council panel to decide which six of 18 equally meritorious applicants should get computer hardware and software will understand this need. An $850,000 pool of technical assistance funds should be administered by the Regional Arts Councils for all grantees of the Arts Board and the RACs, regardless of budget size.

If innovation and collaboration are keys to advancement in any endeavor, then funds should be available to any individual artist or arts organization to commission new work from Minnesota artists in all disciplines. A $500,000 pool of commissioning funds, administered by the Minnesota State Arts Board, should be available to applicants in amounts up to $50,000, with 20% of the available pool reserved for grants of $15,000 or less.

Once annually, members of the Minnesota State Arts Board and the Forum of Regional Arts Councils should convene as the [new] Minnesota Cultural Facilities Commission. The commission should have a $2.5 million pool of funds with which to make annual planning grants of up to $500,000, and capital construction grants of up to $2 million, for projects whose total cost will be $10 million or less. This body also should recommend statewide priorities to the legislature for capital bonding projects costing more than $10 million.

Finally, as a consequence of present economic conditions and activities, it is probable that portfolios of many of the more than 100 foundations that provide grants to the arts in Minnesota will be adversely affected, leading to a decrease in the numbers and sizes of their grants. A funding pool of $2.5 million should be reserved for emergency budget relief for existing arts organizations for 2010, and subsequent years as needed. The criteria and logistics of such a program are beyond the scope of this essay.

That is how I would spend $30,000,000.

How would you spend it?

All of it is academic until you Vote YES on Nov. 4!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Obama for president

Minneapolis, Minnesota

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: Barack Obama for president

By Editorial Board
Oct. 10, 2008

Nine Days before the Feb. 5 presidential primaries in Missouri and Illinois, this editorial page endorsed Barack Obama and John McCain in their respective races.

We did so enthusiastically. We wrote that either Mr. Obama’s message of hope or Mr. McCain’s independence and integrity offered America “the chance to turn the page on 28 years of contentious, greed-driven politics and move into a new era of possibility.”

Over the past nine months, Mr. Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, has emerged as the only truly transformative candidate in the race. In the crucible that is a presidential campaign, his intellect, his temperament and equanimity under pressure consistently have been impressive. He has surrounded himself with smart, capable advisers who have helped him refine thorough, nuanced policy positions.

In a word, Mr. Obama has been presidential.

Meanwhile, Mr. McCain, the senior senator from Arizona, became the incredible shrinking man. He shrank from his principled stands in favor of a humane immigration policy. He shrank from his universal condemnation of torture and his condemnation of the politics of smear.

He even shrank from his own campaign slogan, “County First,” by selecting the least qualified running mate since the Swedenborgian shipbuilder Arthur Sewall ran as William Jennings Bryan’s No. 2 in 1896.

In making political endorsements, this editorial page is guided first by the principles espoused by Joseph Pulitzer in The Post-Dispatch Platform printed daily at the top of this page. Then we consider questions of character, life experience and intellect, as well as specific policy and issue positions. Each member of the editorial board weighs in.

On all counts, the consensus was clear: Barack Obama of Illinois should be the next president of the United States.

We didn’t
know nine months ago that before Election Day, America would face its greatest economic challenge since the Great Depression. The crisis on Wall Street is devastating, but it has offered voters a useful preview of how the two presidential candidates would respond to a crisis.

Very early on, Mr. Obama reached out to his impressive corps of economic advisers and developed a comprehensive set of recommendations for addressing the problems. He set them forth calmly and explained them carefully.

Mr. McCain, a longtime critic of government regulation, was late to recognize the threat. The chief economic adviser of his campaign initially was former Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas, who had been one of the architects of banking deregulation. When the credit markets imploded, Mr. McCain lurched from one ineffectual grandstand play to another. He squandered the one clear advantage he had over Mr. Obama: experience.

Mr. McCain
first was elected to Congress in 1982 when Mr. Obama was in his senior year at Columbia University. Yet the younger man’s intellectual curiosity and capacity — and, yes, also the skills he developed as a community organizer and his instincts as a political conciliator — more than compensate for his lack of more traditional Washington experience.

A presidency is defined less by what happens in the Oval Office than by what is done by the more than 3,000 men and women the president appoints to government office. Only 600 of them are subject to Senate approval. The rest serve at the pleasure of the president.

We have little doubt that Mr. Obama’s appointees would bring a level of competence, compassion and intellectual achievement to the executive branch that hasn’t been seen since the New Frontier. He has energized a new generation of Americans who would put the concept of service back in “public service.”

Consider that while Mr. McCain selected as his running mate Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, a callow and shrill partisan, Mr. Obama selected Sen. Joe Biden of Delaware. Mr. Biden’s 35-year Senate career has given him encyclopedic expertise on legislative and judicial issues, as well as foreign affairs.

The idea that 3,000 bright, dedicated and accomplished Americans would be joining the Obama administration to serve the public — as opposed to padding their resumés or shilling for the corporate interests they’re sworn to oversee — is reassuring. That they would be serving a president who actually would listen to them is staggering.

And the fact that Mr. Obama can explain his thoughts and policies in language that can instruct and inspire is exciting. Eloquence isn’t everything in a president, but it is not nothing, either.

Experience aside,
the 25-year difference in the ages of Mr. McCain, 72, and Mr. Obama, 47, is important largely because Mr. Obama’s election would represent a generational shift. He would be the first chief executive in more than six decades whose worldview was not formed, at least in part, by the Cold War or Vietnam.

He sees the complicated world as it is today, not as a binary division between us and them, but as a kaleidoscope of shifting alliances and interests. As he often notes, he is the son of a Kenyan father and a mother from Kansas, an internationalist who yet acknowledges that America is the only nation in the world in which someone of his distinctly modest background could rise as far as his talent, intellect and hard work would take him.

Given the damage that has been done to America’s moral standing in the world in the last eight years — by a preemptory war, a unilateralist foreign policy and by policies that have treated both the Geneva Conventions and our own Bill of Rights as optional — Mr. Obama’s election would help America reclaim the moral high ground.

It also must be said that Mr. Obama is right on the issues. He was right on the war in Iraq. He is right that all Americans deserve access to health care and right in his pragmatic approach to meeting that goal. He is right on tax policy, infrastructure investment, energy policy and environmental issues. He is right on American ideals.

He was right when he said in his remarkable speech in March in Philadelphia that “In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world’s great religions demand: that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother’s keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister’s keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.”

John McCain
has served his country well, but in the end, he may have wanted the presidency a little too much, so much that he has sacrificed some of the principles that made him a heroic figure in war and in peace. In every way possible, he has earned the right to retire.

Finally, only at this late point do we note that Barack Obama is an African-American. Because of who he is and how he has run his campaign, that fact has become almost incidental to most Americans. Instead, his countrymen are weighing his talents, his values and his beliefs, judging him not by the color of his skin, but the content of his character.

That says something profound and good — about him as a candidate and about us as a nation.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Preview: Mass in times of war

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minnesota audiences will be able to experience major musical works rooted in the liturgy of the Mass at least twice during the 2008-2009 performance season.

The more ambitious production will be that of the Minnesota Orchestra when it presents Mass, A Theater Piece for Singers, Players, and Dancers, at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis, Jan. 22-23. Composed by Leonard Bernstein at the request of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, the work received its first performance at the opening of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D. C., Sept. 8, 1971. Its antiwar theme contributed to a climate of controversy around its premiere. I followed news reports and gossip about the gala opening; although I resided in Washington at the time, my finances permitted entrance to the JFK Center only for free public tours.

Music Director Osmo Vanska will conduct the Minnesota performances which will feature 250 performers, including Raymond Ayers, baritone, as the celebrant, along with members of the Minnesota Chorale, Minnesota Boychoir, and James Sewell Ballet.

Owing to the work's scope and the expense of its production, Mass is performed rarely by professional orchestras. However, as 2008 marks the 90th anniversary of Bernstein's birth, Mass will be the centerpiece of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's current season with performances in Baltimore (Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, Oct. 16-18), New York (Carnegie Hall, Oct. 24; United Palace Theater, Oct. 25), and Washington D. C. (JFK Center, Oct. 26).

Missa Brevis, a production on a smaller scale, will take the stage of the Northrop Dance Series, Mar. 19. This modern dance classic, choreographed by José Limón, is a 40-minute work for 22 dancers. It will feature members of the New York-based Limón Dance Company joined by eight students from the University of Minnesota's Dance Program. The Oratorio Society of Minnesota will perform the score by Zoltán Kodály.

As one of America's modern dance pioneers, Limón's force and presence as a dancer did much to establish a role for men in dance. Born in Mexico in 1908, he arrived in New York City in 1928 and soon began studies with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman. He founded The Jose Limón Dance Company in 1946, with Humphrey serving as artistic director until her death 12 years later. Limón also began teaching at The Juilliard School in 1951. His own death, from prostate cancer, came in 1972.

Limón's choreography has been noted for its dramatic expression, technical mastery, and its expansive, nuanced movement. Many of his works are considered classics of modern dance and continue to be studied and performed widely by students and professionals.

When the Limón Company toured Europe in 1957, sponsored by the U. S. State Department, Limón was impressed by his first-hand witness, particularly in Poland, to the widespread devastation, efforts to re-build, and the indomitable human spirit that marked the post-war era.

According to company program notes, the experience inspired him to create Missa Brevis as a memento to the cities destroyed during World War II and to the human qualities that compel the spirit to rise and survive after near destruction. The dance received its first performance at the Juilliard Dance Theater in New York, Apr. 11, 1958. Deborah Jowitt, the long-time dance writer and critic for The Village Voice, was an original cast member.

The music, Missa Brevis in Tempore Belli – "Short Mass in Time of War" – was completed by the Hungarian composer Kodály during the Siege of Budapest in the winter of 1944-1945, when he extended his original scoring for solo organ to include mixed chorus.

The University of Minnesota's Dance Program sponsors annual residencies by dance professionals to benefit its BA and BFA students. Underwritten by the Cowles Guest Artist Program, more than 120 people over the years have shared their knowledge and expertise with students as creators and repetiteurs of new and existing works.

Sarah Stackhouse, one of this year's five visiting artists, set Missa Brevis on 22 students in a residency that ended with an open rehearsal this week at the University's Barbara Barker Center for Dance. Stackhouse danced with the Limón company from 1958 to 1969, and has served on the faculties of The Juilliard School, the American Dance Festival, and the SUNY-Purchase Conservatory of Dance.

Introducing the open rehearsal, Carl Flink, chair, Department of Theatre Arts & Dance, said that Missa Brevis fills the "classic" slot in this year's repertoire of the University Dance Theatre. Flink, who danced with the Limón Company from 1992 to 1998, noted that the men and women are cast in a traditional structure, something that is rarely done at the university anymore.

In remarks, Stackhouse related that the objective for artists in the 1920s and 1930s was not necessarily great choreography but dealing with social movement issues. Although Missa Brevis follows the order of the Catholic Mass and Limón saw the work as his prayer for peace, it is not a religious piece, she said. "Although raised in Catholicism, he was what might be called a religious atheist."

At rise, 21 dancers stand clumped and motionless at center stage, hands joined. A male dancer, the outsider, stands downstage right. The group greets the music of the Kyrie with a gentle plié and tendu accompanied by a shifting of weight and opening to second position. At its end, the work returns to this same grouping and movement with the final "Amen."

Some of the imagery for the dance was unconventional, if not controversial, for 1958. A trio of women in the Sanctus section represented the Trinity, and a woman offered herself as the sacrifice for crucifixion in another. The latter, Stackhouse explained, represented Limón's mother who died while birthing her 12th child.

As a classic, Missa Brevis is great choreography that deals with social issues. It would be a good primer for those wanting to understand the antecedents of vocabulary, phrasing, patterns, and structures of contemporary dance in 2008. Flink observed that this dance uses time and space in a way that lacks the frenetic energy and tempo of life and dance today. Stackhouse agreed, noting the work's generosity, allowing the viewer to enter in, its use of space and time allowing for metaphor.

Auditions for entry into the University of Minnesota's BA and BFA programs in dance will be held at the Barbara Barker Center for Dance, 500 - 21st Avenue South, Minneapolis, Dec. 6 & Feb. 7. Information: 612.624.5060 or

The University Dance Theatre will perform at the Whiting Proscenium Theatre, Rarig Center, Minneapolis West Bank Campus, Feb. 6-8. 612.624.2345 or

The Limón Dance Company and UDT will perform at Northrop Auditorium, Minneapolis East Bank Campus, Mar. 19. 612.624.2345.