Wednesday, September 22, 2010

6th Minnesota SAGE Awards for Dance: Special Citation

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The 6th Annual Minnesota SAGE Awards for Dance recognized 11 people connected to Minnesota's dance community at ceremonies held Tuesday, Sept. 14, 2010, at the Southern Theater. As one of 13 members of the panel that reviewed performances during 2009/10 and selected the awardees, I was given the privilege of presenting the Special Citation, with the comments below.
The SAGE Awards Special Citation is presented at the discretion of each year's panel to one, living or dead, person or organization, connected to Minnesota dance. 

Each of this year’s three nominees has inspired us with their creations, their performances, their teaching, and their leadership. If, in their leading, they ever felt fear or trepidation, they never let it show. I have known all of them for decades, and I encourage you to do  yourself a favor by befriending them and receiving for yourself the blessings of their experience and wisdom. Their resumes are lengthy, and I provide only a few highlights of each.

Where is Susana di Palma?

Susana, stand up, dear, so that we can admire you and your jewels.

In the 1970s, a colleague invited me to a restaurant and club over by Saint Anthony Main. The Hauser brothers were playing flamenco guitar, and you were dancing solo. It was the first professional dance performance that I ever saw as an adult. I had never seen anything like it. 

You founded Zorongo Flamenco Dance Theatre in 1982 as your vehicle to create traditional flamenco and full-length works of theater-flamenco. In doing that, you regularly brought a stable of international flamenco artists to America and Minnesota, and all of us have been richer for it.

You have known the slings and arrows of working in the nonprofit arts. Once, when we were working together and Zorongo was performing in this very theater, after two days no one was coming in the door. We called the radio station down the street and had them broadcast the message that anyone who turned up would be admitted for free.

A short time later, your work sold 97% of the seats a week of performances at the Joyce Theater in New York City. Reviewing that production of "Dona Flor & Her Two Husbands" for the New York Times, Jennifer Dunning observed that "This is possibly the most imaginative production that has ever appeared at the Joyce."

The Joyce Theater invited you and Zorongo back for the following year, but you said "no," showing us that one can pick and choose the opportunities that present themselves.

With the Zorongo school you have raised up a new generation of flamenco artists to engage and beguile us.

In the panel we talked about how you are a self-made artist and a self-made woman. You are a true, Minnesota original. We bless you, and look forward to your new work, later this fall, at the Ritz.

Olé, my dear!

Patrick Scully! Stand up, man, so we can look up to you as we have for these many years!

From 1976 until 1980, you were a member of the Contactworks Dance Company. Your performance of "A Personal Goodbye" at the Mixed Blood Theatre in 1981 was the second professional dance I attended as an adult. Like a good audience member, I signed your mailing list and, months later, joined your Wednesday night improvisation class held on Block E. But for stumbling upon that performance, someone else would be talking to you right now.

You have performed in Boston, New York, Washington, D. C., Germany, Ireland, Argentina, and all over Minnesota. The New York Times included your 1992 performance at Dance Theater Workshop as among that year's best!

You founded Patrick's Cabaret in 1986. The earliest years of cabaret performances took place in the gymnasium of St. Stephens' Church school. After a time, you moved the cabaret  to "your living room" off of 5th Avenue South by the freeway wall, and later to its present location in the Longfellow neighborhood. 

It was in your living room, while you were out of the country, that Ron Athey presented a performance that tempted  Congress to abolish the National Endowment for the Arts, because the Walker Art Center had allocated $250 of  taxpayers' money for a performance whose notoriety and legend far exceeded the reality of what actually took place.

The essence and meaning of Patrick's Cabaret is found in the permission it gives people - artists and audiences alike - to live their dreams. Patrick's Cabaret gives a hand out, a hand up, and 15 minutes of fame that empowers people to reach for and express the higher angels of their nature.

You are no longer involved in the day-to-day running of the cabaret, but you continue to share with it your wisdom, insight, and inspiration. Like these other two nominees, you are awesome, and we thank you as we look forward to your return to the stage at Patrick's Cabaret in October and November.

Where is Linda Shapiro? Please stand up so that everyone will know who that woman is that writes about them.

A performance by the New Dance Ensemble – the company that you founded with Leigh Dillard in 1981 – was the third professional dance event I attended as an adult. It was a free performance at the Nicollet Island Amphitheatre.

Your titles varied, but you served as the resident choreographer for New Dance, with your work presented on the same stages as those of the national and regional choreographers that you and Leigh commissioned. You also made time to create work on the dancers of Zenon Dance Company.

New Dance Ensemble performed in New York, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and in Paris. It was also – until this new season that is upon us – the only Minnesota ensemble to have appeared on the Northrop Dance Series.

You paid your company of dancers a decent, living wage. Some of us grumbled and actually found fault with the fact that you were trying to do the right thing – envious that we could not do the same with our dancers. Thankfully, no one complains anymore when companies pay their dancers something more than a stipend and sometimes offer them health insurance.

Times and finances changed, however, and you closed New Dance with grace in 1994.

As an affiliate faculty member with the University of Minnesota’s dance program, you encouraged and shaped the lives and prospects of countless young people.

For a younger generation, it is your renown as a writer with which most members of the SAGE panel are most familiar.

From January 2001 until last week, you have had 152 articles published by City Pages. I did not try to count your writings for the Star Tribune, Saint Paul Pioneer Press, and other print outlets.

You love writing about dance – and the diligent care that you bring to your writing shows. You have told me that you spend anywhere from 3 to 5 hours on a single review – worrying that you get it exactly right. We have noticed. And we care because you make permanent what is ephemeral on our stages.

Thank you, my dear, for caring. Thank you for writing. You may have come here in 1972 – as a mere child – but you have become a Minnesota original.

To each of our Special Citation nominees, let me say that you are appreciated, you are admired, you are respected, you are our friends, and we love you!

The 2010 SAGE Award for Dance Special Citation is given to Patrick Scully. 

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Review: "Renovate" choreographers' evening at the Ritz

Minneapolis, Minnesota

"Renovate," the 3rd Annual Choreographers' Evening presented by the Ritz Theater, May 20-22, held together as a cohesive and engaging entertainment, even as it showcased a variety of talents and dance forms ranging from ballet to post modern. As she did twice previously, North Dakota native Lisa Conlin, a member of the Ballet of the Dolls, curated the lineup of 12 dance works for 16 dancers, with advisory assistance this year from Mariusz Olszewski and Vanessa Voskuil. The major aim of "Renovate" is to introduce and highlight new choreography and new choreographers – or both – along with the dancers who perform their work, by giving them a stage, publicity, and an audience.

This year's effort was the best and most satisfying such presentation of multiple artists that I have seen in years. Collectively, the evening included some of the best dances I have seen all year.

The top of the program began with demonstrations of dance basics as choreographer and soloist Elizabeth Bergman, attired in black leotard with spaghetti straps, opened "I don't feel it is necessary to know exactly what I mean" while standing in ballet's first position enveloped in a pool of downward white light. From that humble beginning, Bergman moved through a series of balletic poses and phrases, accented by occasional distortions of limb and line. Her music mix from GoGoo and Aphex Twins sounded like a ticking toy clock accompanied by a drone-like background of distant, electronic church bells. Bergman is a Nebraska native who received an MFA degree in dance from the University of Iowa.

Cade Holmseth, a graduate in dance from the University of Minnesota, has performed with several Minnesota companies and was cast by a number of "Renovate" choreographers in 2009 and 2010. I do not recall seeing his choreography in the past. However, based on "Just One More," his solo work for Brian Evans, we should encourage Holmseth to continue developing what could be a promising dance voice. A barefoot Evans cut a distinctive figure with his springy mop of black hair, white shirt, and gray suit coat and slacks. Moving athletically against a musical background from Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger," Evans addressed the audience with personality-plus, offering to be any kind of friend that one of any persuasion might need or want: from cute, romantic, and sensitive to rugged and rough-around-the-edges.

One would not be entirely wrong in characterizing this year's "Renovate" as The Brian Evans Show. It was impossible to miss his charismatic presence in the five works in which he danced. A graduate of Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota, Evans is completing his third season as a member of the Stuart Pimsler Dance Theatre. As a performer who has come into his own, he also appeared in the 2009 "Renovate" dances by Jim Lieberthal, Marciano Silva dos Santos, and Julie Warder.

Terpsichore, the ancient Greek muse of dance, received a solid work-out in a duet choreographed by Taja Will for herself and Blake Nellis. The title, "Terpsichore Told Us to: 23 gestures, 11 poses, 2 solos, and 1 duet," provided an accurate description of the dance. Will, who was born in Chile, raised in Iowa, and attended Luther College, works with structured improvisation, and has performed with Body Cartography, Miguel Gutierrez, and Cathy Wright. Her instant work drew its theme from the neuroscience of dreams and served up an exceedingly fine and compelling improvisational performance by both dancers. Both performers wore basic black, she with red accents and he with yellow. From separate pools of downstage light, two soloists responded to irregular and staccato recorded directives to fall, jump, pose, point, stomp, lunge, sit, shimmy, stir, kneel, spiral, grasp, etc., before continuing the movements as a duet at center stage and again as soloists. As the movement accelerated, the voiced directives dissolved into an electronic score from which emerged a full-blown dance of sustained intensity. Nellis performed in April at Northeast Community Lutheran Church with Tracy Vacura, and has taught improvisation at Zenon Dance School.

Years ago, John Munger presented "An Evening of Classical Modern Dance." It remains highlighted in memory as a delightful and contemplative entertainment. While his dances always have been inhabited by idiosyncratic characters and personalities, each clearly drawn, his recent efforts, such as his "Nutbuster" solo at the Bryant-Lake Bowl last December, depict a darker element missing from his earlier work. So it is with "Wrath," accompanied by music from David Byrne. Munger moves with an enviable agility that belies his status as a sexagenarian. He described "Wrath" on a recent Facebook post as "watching somebody being dead serious about being angry about who knows what." Munger founded and directs the Third Rabbit Dance Ensemble, teaches at Zenon Dance School, and directs research for Dance/USA.

If one underlying factor allowed Denise Armstead to perform scores of choreographic styles and personalities during her 20 years as a member of the Zenon Dance Company, one might suspect it was release technique. It seems also to have played a role in her work as a choreographer since forming DAdance in 2007. I last saw Armstead dance in the visual arts gallery of the Burnsville Performing Arts Center in July 2009. Then, as now – in excerpts from "In Between-Between Places" – her angular vocabulary hints at the emergence of a distinctive style and voice. In this quartet for herself, Evans, Holmseth, and Sharon Picasso, Armstead displays a talent for choreographing whole movements or sections of dancing, but not necessarily for their ordering and grouping. The overall work felt disjointed. This was my first time seeing Picasso, who holds a dance and choreography degree from the Boston Conservatory.

Minnesotans have been lucky to have in their midst Alanna Morris, a graduate of the Juilliard School, as a two-year member of TU Dance. In "Dreams: A Solo," a work in progress, the Brooklyn native dances "for all who dream of something better" to sounds of So Percussion, Zaire school children, and excerpts from Martin Luther King speeches. A straw sun hat, red umbrella, and orange dress were perfect accessories. One looks forward to the completed work.

Just as time and effort often can shape the development of an artist's work, so it can influence the perspective of individual and collective members of an audience. The first time I encountered Jaime Carrera in November 2007, he was standing naked, center stage at the Walker Art Center, with waist-length hair that moved as his head tilted back-and-forth. I still don't know what that was about. I thought that "Frontera," his solo offering in the 2009 "Renovate" program, was coherent but weakened by its attempt to include too many ideas and elements. This time, to my eye, he has it together. "Madurez," using music of Final Fantasy, celebrated the resourcefulness and determination of artists who stay connected to the creativity of their childhoods. Carrera brought the house down in his lime green t-shirt, black denim shorts, black towel super hero cape, newspaper pirate's hat, and cardboard sword. Carrera hails from Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, by way of Kansas City and Chicago.

When Jennifer Ilse and Paul Herwig, co-artistic directors of Off-Leash Area, presented "The Jury" at The Red Eye earlier this year, the buzz was incredible. So was the 75-minute show, based on a murder trial for which Ilse served as a juror. An excerpt, "Love Triangle," featured Ilse (red tank top, blue denim cutoffs), Evans (white t-shirt, green khakis), and Bryan Gerber (white tank top, blue Levis), all of whom appeared in the earlier, full production. Set to sound by Reid Kruger and text by Max Sparber, the dancing was, simply, hot. Compelling. Unnerving. Gerber, a dance graduate from Minnesota State University, Mankato, is a member of Ballet of the Dolls; he presented a solo work for "Renovate" in 2009, and appeared earlier this month as Wolf in the Actors Theater of Minnesota production of "Bent."

After the show, friends and I asked each other, "Who are these people, and where have they been all our lives?" These people would be the dancers Angharad Davies and Alex Grant, who performed "Security," the most cogent work of the evening, choreographed by Davies. Start with a quote from Cary Grant: "I get up in the morning, go to bed at night, and occupy myself as best I can in between." Add the dark, drop-dead gorgeous looks of both performers. Add for each the buttoned-down uniform of security guards: white shirts, black ties and slacks, brown shoes with laces, and, for him, a slight 5-o'clock shadow. Provide a backdrop of stacks of used, styrofoam coffee cups. Mix-in the mad and endless stirring of coffee in cups to raise walls of security and ward off reality. Infuse focused and committed pedestrian movement to get through a few hours of the day. Underlie it with charming, sublimated and unrequited passion that leads to one conclusion: if they won't jump each other out of their boredom, someone from the audience surely will. All I know about Davies is that she holds an MFA degree in dance from the Tisch School of the Arts in New York City and moved to Minneapolis from Berlin. Don't know anything about Grant. I want much more of both. 

Julie Warder, who began dancing with Myron Johnson at the Children's Theatre Company School, has presented choreography in three rounds of "Renovate." In 2009, her "Jammin'" was awarded the evening's closing slot; but for the competitiveness of this year's program, so might have been "Abandon Me," her entry as choreographer/director for 2010. Her placement, once removed from penultimate, hurt not a bit, however. "Abandon Me," with its examination of paternal legacies among generations, set to Kirk Franklin's music, provided an emotional tour de force for Evans (proof positive of his ability at barrel turns) in front of Mark Hanson's haunting videography. The work of Kortland Jackson, who choreographed the Krump (U.S. street) dance, will be featured in the Hip Hop Choreographers' Evening at Patrick's Cabaret, June 18-20.

To my regret, I have little recollection of Erin Drummond and her solo performance, "Rebeca Eats Dust," set to music by Chuck Jonkey. Her placement before the closer, and following all that preceded, set her up for perceptual obscurity. After dancing for Ballet Arts Minnesota from the age of eight and attending Columbia University, she deserves another, better chance.

One word, "brilliant," describes the excerpt from "A Word With You Dear," choreographed by Kari Mosel. Performing to spoken text, Evans, Mosel, Holmseth, and Kathryn Jacobs portray two halves of the same couple – one communicating verbally, the other physically – at "the root moment in a relationship when it is discovered if you love enough to let go." Mosel comes originally from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, and holds a BFA from the University of Minnesota. She has danced with Shapiro and Smith Dance and Stuart Pimsler Dance Theatre.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

281 metro arts grants approach $2 million

Minneapolis, Minnesota

With its April award of $433,556 to 51 organizations and projects in the Arts Learning grant program, the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council has increased to 281 the number of grants it has awarded during the fiscal year ending June 30. Grants awarded to-date total $1,925,155.

The Arts Learning grants will fund extended learning experiences that develop knowledge, skills, and understanding in a variety of arts disciplines. Earlier announcements named grantees in the Arts Activity Support, Capital Grants, Community Arts (1st and 2d rounds), Creative Intersections, and Organizational Development programs.

Arts Learning grants to 51 organizations or projects in April totaled $433,556, an average of $8,501 each:
Dakota County: Allegro Choral Academy, $4,864; Lifeworks Services, Inc., $10,000; Vecchione/Erdahl Duo, $7,816.
Hennepin County: ARENA Dances, Inc., $10,000; Copper Street Brass Quintet, $9,200; Franklin Art Works, $7,750; Indonesian Performing Arts Association of Minnesota, $8,000; Junior Composers, $10,000; Kairos Dance Theatre, $10,000; Struthers Parkinson's Center, Kaleidoscope Place, $10,000; Les Jolies Petites School of Dance, $9,550; Live Action Set, $8,500; Minneapolis Pops Orchestra Association, $8,163; Northstar Storytelling League, $10,000; Old Arizona Collaborative, Inc., $10,000; OverExposure, $10,000; Plymouth Christian Youth Center, $10,000; Red Eye Collaboration, $3,600; She Rock She Rock, $10,000; Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater, $10,000; Twin Cities Jazz Workshops, $10,000; Walking Shadow Theatre Company, $2,577; Weaver's Guild of Minnesota, $10,000; West Bank School of Music, $8,915; Young Dance, Inc., $10,000.
Ramsey County: ArtStart, $10,000; Deborah Elias Danza Espanola, $3,116; East Side Arts Council, $10,000; Flying Forms, $10,000; Grace Minnesota, $7,472; Lex-Ham Community Arts, $1,200; Minnesota Chinese Dance Theater, $10,000; Nautilus Music-Theater, $8,800; Pan Asian Artists' Alliance, $10,000; Saint Paul Almanac, $10,000; Saint Paul Jaycee Foundation, $10,000; Sounds of Hope, Ltd., $4,300; Walker West Music Academy, $6,158; Zeitgeist, $10,000.
Scott County: Jordan Community Education, $10,000; New Prague Schools Community Education $9,830; Savage Arts Council, $4,720.
Suburban Hennepin County: Continental Ballet Company, $7,860; Harmony Theatre Company and School, $9,175; Minnesota Creative Arts and Aging Network, $10,000; Partnership Resources, Inc., $9,490; The Depot Coffee House, $4,500.
Suburban Ramsey County: Ashland Productions, $10,000; Lakeshore Players, Inc., $10,000; White Bear Center for the Arts, $10,000.
Washington County: FamilyMeans, $8,000.

In the 281 grants made through April, 38 organizations were awarded multiple grants (AA=Arts Access, AL=Arts Learning, C=Capital, CA=Community Arts, CR=Creative Intersections, OD=Organizational Development) as follows:
ARENA Dances, Inc. ($10,000 AA; $10,000 AL); ArtStart ($10,000 AL; $8,700 C); Ashland Productions ($10,000 AA; $10,000 AL; $10,000 C; $10,000 CA); Caponi Art Park ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA);  Continental Ballet Company ($7,860 AL; $4,697 C; $5,000 CA); Copper Street Brass Quintet ($9,200 AL; $2,500 CA); Dakota Valley Symphony ($8,480 C; $5,000 CA); East Side Arts Council ($10,000 AA; $10,000 AL; $6,080 C; $10,000 CA; $10,000 CR);
Frank Theatre ($10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); Katha Dance Theatre ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); Lakeshore Players, Inc. ($10,000 AL; $5,000 CA); Les Jolies Petites School of Dance ($9,550 AL; $5,000 CA); Lex-Ham Community Arts ($1,200 AL; $920 CA); Live Action Set ($10,000 AA; $8,500 AL); JazzMN, Inc. ($10,000 CA; $3,840 OD); Masquers Theatre Company ($8,905 C; $5,000 CA); Minneapolis Pops Orchestra ($10,000 AA; $8,163 AL; $6,480 OD); Minnesota Freedom Band ($9,038 C; $2,500 CA);
Music Saint Croix ($1,163 C; $5,000 CA); Nautilus Music-Theater ($8,800 AL; $10,000 OD); Off-Leash Area ($10,000 CA; $5,000 OD); Old Arizona Collaborative, Inc. ($10,000 AL; $8,120 C); Open Eye Figure Theatre ($10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); Plymouth Christian Youth Center ($10,000 AA; $10,000 AL; $10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); Rainbow Rumpus ($5,000 CA; $6,225 OD); Red Eye Collaboration ($10,000 AA; $3,600 AL; $8,700 C; $10,000 CA); Rosetown Playhouse ($5,000 CA; $10,000 OD); Saint Paul Almanac ($10,000 AL; $5,000 CA; $10,000 CR); Sample Night Live! ($5,000 CA; $10,000 OD);
Savage Arts Council ($4,720 AL; $4,000 CA); Sounds of Hope, Ltd. ($10,000 AA; $4,300 AL; $6,125 C); TU Dance ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); Twin Cities Jazz Workshops ($10,000 AL; $5,000 CA); Walker West Music Academy ($6,158 AL; $5,000 CA); Walking Shadow Theatre Company ($10,000 AA; $2,577 AL; $6,813 C; $10,000 CA); Weaver's Guild of Minnesota ($10,000 AL; $5,000 CA); West Bank School of Music ($8,915 AL; $3,500 CA; $10,000 OD); Zeitgeist ($10,000 AA; $10,000 AL; $10,000 OD).

MRAC is one of 11 regional arts councils serving the state of Minnesota. It makes grants to organizations with budgets less than $300,000 located in the seven metropolitan counties of greater Minneapolis and St. Paul. MRAC operates on a fiscal year of July 1 to June 30, and receives its grant funds from the Minnesota State Legislature, the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, and the McKnight Foundation. In its 2009 fiscal year, MRAC received 384 applications and awarded 254 grants totaling $1,007,491.

Review panels will meet June 16-18 for second round applications for Arts Activities Support grants, and May 21 for second round applications for Creative Intersections grants. Applications for the 2011 year are posted on MRAC's website.

The Minnesota State Arts Board makes grants statewide to organizations with budgets exceeding $300,000.


Sunday, April 11, 2010

Playing to win: Why I support Paul Thissen for governor

Minneapolis, Minnesota

In 11 days, delegates of Minnesota's Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party will begin gathering in Duluth to endorse candidates for statewide office. My schedule and stamina will not permit me to join them on the convention sidelines to help seal the deal that makes Paul Thissen our candidate for governor. Thus, I offer these thoughts to the delegates, particularly to my GLBT friends and colleagues.

I met Paul several years ago through his wife, Karen Wilson Thissen, with whom I served on a nonprofit board of directors. They are good people.

As lifelong Minnesotans, Paul Thissen and I share a deep appreciation and affection for the land, the people, and the traditions that give color and meaning to our lives. Both of us have traveled extensively throughout our state and understand the inherent goodwill, sense of fair play, and yearning for integrity that characterizes our people. Paul embodies these traits with a fresh and enthusiastic optimism matched by a can-do spirit of pragmatism.

As the number of days behind me continues to outpace those ahead, I still want to "win" at life's various adventures and to follow my heart with as little compromise as possible. Paul is a solid candidate on the issues that voters and candidates of all stripes should care about. Nonetheless, our party is given to imposing a 100% purity test on issues and - especially - nuances, and then tries to take the safe route by endorsing the candidates who seem to have the greatest name recognition, money, and insider connections. I am old enough to recall the last time Minnesota elected a DFL governor, and I know how well our past patterns of endorsing behavior have not worked.

Given the temper of our times, the personality and character of the next governor will be prime in determining the outcome of legislation and policy. We need to play this election to win.

As a gay man who never could have imagined the possibility of marrying his high school boy friend, I have experienced personally and vicariously the profound changes of attitude, heart, and behavior within myself and others that have replaced shadows with sunshine, fear with strength, and despair with hope. Like the best of leaders, Paul calls forth the higher angels of our nature. He has done this in speeches to assembled throngs, in one-on-one conversations, and in the introduction and passage of legislation.

As the real deal, he also does it in the raising of his own kids, all of whom accompanied us in last year's Pride Parade through the streets of downtown Minneapolis. Would that our own parents ever would have placed in our hands signs that read "Our friend has two mothers, and we think it's great!"

As a one-time political candidate, I know about the ineffable campaign experience that Paul has undertaken. I am inspired by his work ethic, the competence and confidence of his campaign team, and the equanimity of his person. I will be proud to have him serve as governor of my state, and I ask you to join me and other Minnesotans for Thissen to help make that happen!


Friday, April 9, 2010

A distinctive spring music marathon in Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota

For nearly two years, the Southern Theater in Minneapolis has raised its profile as a presenter of new music. A distinctive line-up of four engagements during April will provide the fixings for a spring music marathon, reflecting why some are calling the Seven Corners venue the most innovative for Twin Cities music programming.

Nico Muhly and Sam Amidon • Wed-Thu • Apr 14-15 • 7:30pm

While not yet 30, Nico Muhly is no stranger to name venues and institutions. A former boy chorister, the Vermont-native-raised-in-Rhode Island graduated from Columbia University with a degree in English literature in 2003, and received a Masters in Music the following year from The Juilliard School, where he studied composition with Christopher Rouse and John Corigliano.

He has worked extensively with Philip Glass as editor, keyboardist, and conductor. His compositions for choir include the commission of "Bright Mass with Canons" from New York's Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, and he also has composed for orchestra, opera, and film. He has "done" Carnegie Hall (with commission), the Whitney Museum, and others.

In an interview for The Reykjavik Grapevine following last month's Icelandic Music Awards, Muhly observed that "the reasons I make music all stem to thinking about myself as an eleven year old singing in a choir, thinking about my very lonely pre-teen gay boy self....I address my music to that kid, always....I want my music always to be that rapturous, how I felt it then."

Muhly's 2007 Minneapolis debut occurred at the Southern Theater, where he returns for two performances in a double bill with pal and colleague Sam Amidon, Apr. 14-15. The very next day will find Muhly at New York City's Symphony Space for the world premiere of "Detailed Instructions," a commission from the New York Philharmonic, followed by a performance at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Apr. 17.

Neither does grass grow under Amidon's feet. On Apr. 10, he released his fourth solo album, "I See the Sign," including contributions from Muhly, Ben Frost, Beth Orton, and his brother, the percussionist Stefan Amidon. Earlier, in March, he attended the Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, Tennessee. Yet, as he recently told the Burlington Free Press in his native Vermont, "I've played very little in the U.S. outside of New York City."

A son of the folk artists Peter and Mary Alice Amidon, Sam sings, plays fiddle, banjo, and guitar., an international magazine of cultural criticism, described his 2008 solo album, "All is Well," for which Muhly did the arrangements, as "one of the best records of traditional Appalachian folk songs ever recorded."

According to press materials, Muhly and Amidon's Minneapolis gig at the Southern "will present an evening of old folk tunes re-imagined, new music for piano and viola, old standards for viola, upside-down music for electronics and voice, and, with any luck, some Schumann."

A post-show reception at The Red Stag Supperclub in Minneapolis, Apr. 15, will provide a moment's pause before the musicians continue racking up frequent flyer miles. After his two-day stop in New York, Muhly will catch up with Amidon in Berlin, Apr. 18. There, joined by Frost and Valgeir Sigurosson, they will embark on the Whale Watching Tour, playing stages in Belgium, the United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Spain, Switzerland, Latvia, and Iceland – all by May 16.

yMusic and Gabriel Kahane • Fri-Sat • Apr. 16-17 • 8pm

The Brooklyn-based Gabriel Kahane, 29, along with the six members of yMusic, also will make the post-performance scene at the Red Stag, Apr. 15, before opening their Southern Theater debut at Seven Corners, Apr. 16-17.

On the heels of his Lincoln Center "American Songbook" debut, the singer, pianist, and composer will bring to the stage “For the Union Dead,” a song cycle on poems by Robert Lowell, composed specifically for yMusic. The six members of that ensemble include Nadia Sirota, Mike Block, Rob Moose, CJ Camerieri, Alex Sopp, and Hideaki Aomori.

Kahane, who attended Boston's New England Conservatory and Brown University, recently completed a large-scale solo work for the pianist Natasha Paremski. A short piece for his father, the conductor and concert pianist Jeffrey Kahane, had its New York City premiere at Lincoln Center and was hailed by the New York Times as “most striking, if only for the virtuosity and varied stylistic sensibility it demanded.” 

Upcoming compositions include a string quartet for the Kronos Quartet, a hybrid cello sonata/song cycle for the cellist Alisa Weilerstein and himself, and an evening-length work for piano, voice, and orchestra, exploring his family’s genealogy and journey from Germany to the United States. Kahane also is completing a new musical for The Public Theater, which recently named him Musical Theater Fellow, and was recently commissioned by the Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, to write an evening-length work.

As a performer, Kahane has appeared in recital throughout Europe with Grammy Award-winning bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff, toured the Schumann Piano Quintet with the Mark Morris Dance Group, and accompanied violinist Hilary Hahn in the slow movement of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in a dirty bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

The conservatory-trained members of yMusic, created in 2008, perform as a chamber ensemble, composing and commissioning music that features varied and multiple instruments and musical perspectives. In addition to accompanying Kahane in “For the Union Dead,” the group will play new works by Son Lux and Judd Greenstein, and instrumental arrangements by Sufjan Stevens and Arvo Pärt, employing violin, electric guitar, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, trumpet, and French horn.

Kahane offers a generous appraisal of his colleagues “whose members move with such ease and grace between the worlds of classical music and indie rock. It was with this knowledge that I wrote 'For the Union Dead,' and I am honored to play it with them at the Southern Theater, marking the Twin Cities premiere of this work.”

Kahane's performance at the Southern will mark the beginning of a North American tour that will take him to Vancouver, Orcas Island, Seattle, Portland, Eugene, San Francisco, and New York.

Accordo • Mon • Apr. 19 • 8pm

Fewer than three dozen tickets remain for the final, debut season performance by Accordo, Apr. 19. The program will include Beethoven's C-minor String Trio, the C-minor String Quartet by Brahms, and Tsontakis's Knickknacks for Violin and Viola.

"Those who attend Accordo's first season," wrote, "could find themselves bragging about being there when a major new group was born. They have that potential."

Accordo includes Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra veterans Steven Copes, Ruggero Allifranchini, and Maiya Paach, and the Minnesota Orchestra's principal cellist, Tony Ross. The ensemble will return to the Southern in 2010-11 for a series of three engagements.

So Percussion • Thu-Fri • Apr. 29-30 • 7:30pm / 8pm

I first heard of So Percussion two months ago when the technical director at the Southern Theater, where I serve as executive director, asked whether – should it be necessary – he could drive roundtrip to Missouri, twice, to pick up, rent, and return, a marimba or two.

Who knew that the Marimba 2010 International Festival and Conference was coming to the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis and would scoop up every marimba within five states?! Fortunately, we think we have the challenge solved without the driving excursions out-of-state.

So Percussion's Southern Theater debut, Apr. 29-30, will feature the regional premiere of "Mallet Quartet," a work for two vibraphones and two marimbas, written for the group by Steve Reich, a 2009 winner of the Pulitzer Prize; the work will be presented at Carnegie Hall in 2011. The program also will include the world premiere of "And So," a work for four players on two marimbas, by Mary Ellen Childs, a Minneapolis-based composer; "String of Pearls" by David Lang; "It is Time" by Steve Mackey; and "Music for Pieces of Wood" by Reich.

The four principals of So Percussion, Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, and Jason Treuting, formed their ensemble in 1999 while attending the Yale School of Music. Their work has been performed at domestic and international venues, including the Lincoln Center Festival, Carnegie Hall, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Stanford Lively Arts, and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

Artists from more than 20 countries will attend the Marimba 2010 International Festival and Conference, Apr. 28-May 1, hosted by professor Fernando A. Meza of the University of Minnesota School of Music. In addition to the Southern Theater, the festival's artistic partners include the Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, VocalEssence, the Schubert Club, Frederick R. Weisman Art Museum, and Minnesota Public Radio.

The festival will present 21 recitals and three lecture/demonstrations at the Ted Mann Concert Hall on the university's campus. The concerts on Apr. 28 at 7:30pm (Ted Mann) and Apr. 29 at 11am (Weisman Museum) are free and open to the public.

The Southern Theater is located at 1420 Washington Avenue South at Seven Corners, Minneapolis, Minnesota. Tickets may be ordered online at or by calling the ticket office at 612.340.1725.


Monday, March 29, 2010

230 metro area arts grants total $1.49 million for 2010

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, based in St. Paul, announced the award in March of 65 grants totaling $293,780 in the second round of its 2010 Community Arts grant program. The announcement raised to 230 the number of grants made in fiscal year 2010, totaling $1,491,599. Earlier announcements named grantees in the Community Arts (1st round), Creative Intersection, Arts Activity Support, Organizational Development, and Capital Grants programs.

Year-to-date grants exceed the $1,007,491 total for all of fiscal year 2009. MRAC makes grants to organizations with budgets less than $300,000 located in the seven metropolitan counties of greater Minneapolis and St. Paul. MRAC operates on a fiscal year of July 1 to June 30, and receives its grant funds from the Minnesota State Legislature, the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, and the McKnight Foundation.

Community Arts grants to 65 organizations or programs in March totaled $293,780, an average of $4,520 each:

Anoka County: Banfill-Locke Center for the Arts, $3,500; Blaine Parks and Recreation, $3,000; Fridley Community Theatre, $5,000; Lee Carlson Center for Mental Health and Well Being, $4,798.

Carver County: Centre Stage Theatre and Arts, $5,000; ISD 108 Community Education, $5,000; Nordic Heritage Club, $1,930; Watertown Area Fine Arts Council, $5,000; Watertown-Mayer Community Education, $5,000.

Dakota County: Chameleon Theatre Circle, $5,000; Dakota County Sheriff's Office, $4,560; DanceWorks Repertory Ensemble, $5,000; Eagan Parks and Recreation, $5,000; Hastings Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, $5,000; Minnesota Brass, Inc., $5,000.
Hennepin County: Aldrich Arts Collaborative, $2,910; Brazen Theatre Company, $5,000; Carnaval Brasileiro, $5,000; Civic Orchestra of Minneapolis, $5,000; Copper Street Brass Quintet, $2,500; Eclectic Ensemble, $1,545; Flower Shop Project, $5,000; Hauser Dance, $5,000; Hope Community, Inc., $4,000; I'm Telling Productions, $5,000; Northside Arts Collective, $5,000; Obsidian Arts, $5,000; Peace Day Lantern Ceremony, $5,000; Rainbow Rumpus, $5,000; Redeemer Center for Life, $4,722; Refuge, $4,000; Screenwriters' Workshop, $3,000; Strange Capers, $5,000; Urban Spectrum Theatre, $3,550; Weaver's Guild of Minnesota, $5,000; West Bank School of Music, $3,500.
Ramsey County: Center for Irish Music, $5,000; Hmong Cultural Center, Inc., $5,000; Lidia Productions, $5,000; Maggie Bergeron and Company, $5,000; New Native Theatre, $4,000; North Star Chorus, $5,000; People, Inc., $5,000; Sample Night Live!, $5,000; StoryBlend, $5,000; The Minnesota Feis, Inc., $4,540; Walker West Music Academy, $5,000; West Side Theater Project, $5,000; Women's Initiative for Self-Empowerment, $5,000; Young Artists Initiative, $4,500.
Scott County: Hymnus, Incorporated, $5,000; Savage Arts Council, $4,000.
Suburban Hennepin County: 4 Community Theatre, $5,000; Discovery Arts Council, $2,725; Les Jolies Petites School of Dance, $5,000; Minnesota Sunshine Dance, $5,000; Westonka Community Education and Services, $3,000.
Suburban Ramsey County: Rosetown Playhouse, $5,000.
Washington County: Forest Lake Park Board, $5,000; Masquers Theatre Company, $5,000; Music Saint Croix, $5,000; St. Croix Valley Chamber Chorale, $5,000; Stillwater Area Public Schools Community Education, $5,000; Washington County 4-H Federation, $5,000; Washington County Agricultural Society, $3,500.

Within its guidelines, MRAC permits organizations to receive more than one project grant in a fiscal year. Of the 230 grants made through March, 19 organizations have been awarded grants for two projects and two organizations have been awarded grants for three.

Organizations receiving two project grants in 2010 include the following (C=Capital, CA=Community Arts, OD=Organizational Development):
Ashland Productions ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA); Caponi Art Park ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA);  Continental Ballet Company ($4,697 C; $5,000 CA); Dakota Valley Symphony ($8,480 C; $5,000 CA); East Side Arts Council ($6,080 C; $10,000 CA); Frank Theatre ($10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); JazzMN, Inc. ($10,000 CA; $3,840 OD); Masquers Theatre Company ($8,905 C; $5,000 CA); Minnesota Freedom Band ($9,038 C; $2,500 CA); Music Saint Croix ($1,163 C; $5,000 CA); Off-Leash Area ($10,000 CA; $5,000 OD); Open Eye Figure Theatre ($10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); Plymouth Christian Youth Center ($10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); Rainbow Rumpus ($6,225 OD; $5,000 CA); Red Eye Collaboration ($8,700 C; $10,000 CA); Rosetown Playhouse ($10,000 OD; $5,000 CA); Sample Night Live! ($10,000 OD; $5,000 CA); Walking Shadow Theatre Company ($6,813 C; $10,000 CA); West Bank School of Music ($10,000 OD; $3,500 CA).

Organizations receiving three project grants in 2010 include the following:
Katha Dance Theatre ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); TU Dance ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA; $10,000 OD). 

MRAC is one of 11 regional arts councils serving the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota State Arts Board makes grants statewide to organizations with budgets exceeding $300,000.


Monday, March 15, 2010

Spring performances by Shapiro and Smith Dance

Minneapolis, Minnesota

A shorthand description of "Women and Men," the spring performance program by Shapiro and Smith Dance, can be summed up by the numbers five, four, three, two, one – plus three.

Five women – Maggie Bergeron, Megan McClellan, Kari Mosel, Laura Selle-Virtucio, and Joanie Smith – four men – Bryan Godbout, Cade Holmseth, Andrew Lester, and Eddie Oroyon – and three guest performers – Ananya Chatterjea, Carl Flink, and Emilie Plauché Flink – will perform three repertory works and two world premieres staged in an evening of dance, Apr. 1-4, at the Southern Theater in Minneapolis.

After meeting in the New York dance companies of Murray Lewis and Alwin Nikolais, collaborators Joanie Smith and Danial Shapiro choreographed their first dance together during a 1985 Fulbright Lectureship in Helsinki, Finland. For more than 20 years, the dynamic duo then toured the world with a distinctive blend of contemporary dance and dramatic theater.

Since Shapiro's death from cancer in 2006, Smith has continued to lead their company's creative and administrative development, presenting a mix of new and old works in annual Twin Cities seasons. When not choreographing and performing, Smith serves as associate professor of dance at the University of Minnesota.

For the seven dancers in the world premiere of "Bolero" on the April program, Smith has re-imagined "The Art of War," an earlier work with Shapiro set to Ravel's classic. "'The Art of War,'" Smith says, "used to be Danny's piece. Under my hand, the new 'Bolero' has completely changed, to the point where all that is the same is the music!"

In "Betty's House," the other premiere, Smith has continued the narrative started 23 years ago in "George and Betty's House," the duet she danced with Shapiro. The new installment, set to a Scott Killian score, finds Betty surrounded by cats and still obsessed with fruitless housework.

Smith's colleague, Ananya Chatterjea, director of dance at the University of Minnesota, will perform as a guest in the reprise of "Medea Medea," while Carl Flink, chair of theatre arts and dance, will perform with his wife, Plauché Flink, in "The Gist."

The quartet of Bergeron, Godbout, Oroyan, and Selle-Virtucio promises to round out the program with romantic eye candy in Shapiro and Smith's "Moonlight," set to Beethoven.

Shapiro and Smith Dance will perform at the Southern Theater, Minneapolis, Apr. 1-4. The opening night, pre-show reception will be sponsored by City Pages. For tickets: 612.340.1725.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Walking the streets of downtown Minneapolis, 1

Minneapolis, Minnesota

For 37 years, I have worked in or very near downtown Minneapolis. For 29 of those years, I have lived close enough to walk to work. That has been time enough to absorb, process, and take for granted the countless changes that have infiltrated the cityscape.

Ours is a city that tears things down and builds newer things back up with no regard for any value that might attach to historical or architectural significance. After 20-30 years, we start over again. Witness our unending dialogue about the need for a domed or open-air stadium. If I am still on the planet in 25 years, whatever I then use for newspapers will report on the latest debates to place a retractable roof on the new Target Field that opens for professional baseball next month.

I am not sure that we enjoy this repeating cycle; it just seems embedded in our civic DNA. Perhaps it reflects a collective, obsessive-compulsive personality of the people who built Minneapolis and were never satisfied that they got right anything they were building. In other words, we can't help ourselves.

My new place of employment for the past two months is situated near downtown, near the Mississippi River, and near the University of Minnesota, but at a somewhat further remove from my house than previous workday destinations. As temperatures and pavement conditions have improved with the waning winter, I have begun walking the nearly three miles at least once per day, usually at night.

Such is good for reducing my personal carbon footprint, containing the anxieties of modern life, and for retaining a figure of relative fighting trim.

Treading through downtown this evening, I passed the Accenture Tower on the city block bounded by 3rd and 4th avenues south, and 7th and 8th streets. When constructed in 1987, the 31-story office project was called Lincoln Centre. The "re" spelling of Centre aways struck me as an affectation. Many people have thought it a cold and uninviting structure and have had no hesitation about saying so. I always have regarded it as one of the more classy buildings that have gone up in the last four decades. The tower situates toward 4th Avenue, and has left room for development of a corporate looking park along 3rd Avenue. At the time of construction, there was an expressed intent to build an identical tower along 3rd to mirror that along 4th. Never happened. Now, if another structure rises on that block, it will, no doubt, serve the ego and vision of its designer. A pity.

Nonetheless, I enjoy the park's presence even if it does not invite pedestrians to approach and enter in. In this it is different from the nearly full-block park across 7th Street – also bounded by 3rd and 4th avenues – that serves as a pedestal for the Hennepin County Government Center. The grounds there boast berms and a variety of forestation among pink brick paths. Originally, the bricks were red, imported from someplace in Italy. However, they provided such slick surfaces during our Minnesota winters that, after any number of lawsuit settlements with people who slipped and fell, the bricks got sandblasted down to a dull shadow of their former selves, or were replaced outright.

Construction of the 24-story Government Center, completed in 1977, caused a bit of a scandal because of its cost. Although Hennepin County has been, far and away, the largest of Minnesota's 87 counties in population, prior to the new building few people were aware that county government existed. Previously, it shared space in Minneapolis City Hall.

Hennepin County Commissioner Richard O. Hanson's person and personality drove construction of the Government Center, just as they had earlier won civil service protections for county employees, built county highways, and built the welfare and library programs. First appointed to the county commission by Mayor Hubert Humphrey in 1948, Hanson became the longest-serving commissioner in county history, until his defeat at the hands of fellow Democrat Jeff Spartz in 1976. Construction of the government center was a key issue in that year's campaign.

Hanson was a true Renaissance man. In his 20s, he taught political science at the University of Minnesota. Later, he co-founded a Minneapolis investment firm, Craig Hallum, Inc., helped found the Citizens League, and served on the boards of the United Hospital Fund, Family & Children's Services, the Legal Aid Society, and others. He died at 79 in April 2000.

I first met Hanson in a professional capacity during his 50s, and my 20s, in the 1970s. Later, we came to know each other as closeted gay men who operated largely under the radar of the larger society. His was the first example to me, in those late-Carter and early-Reagan years, of a man who could accomplish worthwhile things in life and still be gay. I am grateful for his unconditional support during a crucial crucible of my life's journey. I think of him often as I pass by the building, plazas, and park that earned him such opprobrium at their creation.


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Commissions anchor spring TCGMC concert

Minneapolis, Minnesota

As a child attending Sunday services of the new St. Timothy's Lutheran Church, held in the Nelson Grade School gymnasium in Columbia Heights, Minnesota, I once heard our pastor make a point in his sermon about the weakness of the human voice. "If all the people in the city of Chicago started talking at one time," he said, "they would generate barely enough energy to illuminate a light bulb."

In those days that preceded the Stonewall Rebellion by 10 years, the pastor had never heard a gay men's chorus, the collective voices of which now have power to change and illuminate the world.

For Glenn Olson, such voices have provided at least one life changing experience. As a baritone singer with the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus since its second season in 1982, he has attended seven quadrennial choral festivals sponsored by GALA Choruses. The 1996 GALA gathering in Tampa, Florida, he says, had a special buzz about it.

Word had it that the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus had commissioned a hot new work, NakedMan, to close the festival and honor the memory of the 254 singers it had lost to AIDS. For everyone, like Olson, who shared the moment, the outside air crackled with electricity as they emerged afterward from the packed hall.

With its soaring melodies, "NakedMan" sings the story of all people who have felt different, and celebrates their courage to face the unknown. The song suite, by Philip Littell and Robert Seeley, grew out of interviews with gay men, and is set in 15 movements adding up to 53 minutes of music. The movements cover the range of human experience: coming out of every kind, getting married, serving in the military, wrestling with God, and experiencing loss.

At the debut of "NakedMan" in 1996, Dr. Stan Hill had served as artistic director of the San Francisco chorus for seven years. He continued there for four more years before assuming the same post with the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus in August 2000.

With the two organizations, Hill has commissioned some of the most successful repertoire in the gay and lesbian choral literature. In addition to "NakedMan," he has shepherded to creation "Exile," "ExtrABBAganza," "Metamorphosis," "Through A Glass, Darkly," and "Misbehavin'!"

Hill also has led the TCGMC on a number of remarkable, groundbreaking journeys, including its 25th anniversary season in 2006. That season culminated in the Great Southern Sing-Out Tour through four states and five cities in six July days.

The chorus launched the Southern tour at Nashville's Ryman Auditorium, becoming the first gay organization to perform on the historic stage of the Grand Ole Opry. From Tennessee, three buses of singers and supporters then traveled to performances in Birmingham and Mobile, Alabama, Jackson, Mississippi, and New Orleans, Louisiana. "Marry Us," one of the movements from "NakedMan," was featured at every stop.

Accompanied by the GLBT Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra, "NakedMan" will open the first half of TCGMC's spring concert, LifeSongs: The Music of Living, Mar. 26-27, at the Ted Mann Concert Hall, Minneapolis. In its publicity, the MPO states that, speaking for itself, its members "will be fully clothed."

The world premiere of "The Kushner Trilogy" will highlight the program's second act. Lyrics for the three sections – "It is Very Simple," "There is a Little House in Heaven," and "I Want More Life" – are drawn from texts by the playwright Tony Kushner.

The TCGMC performed the third section on four occasions during the Guthrie Theater's Kushner Celebration in 2009. Its text comes from "Angels in America, Part II: Perestroika," a monologue by Prior, a man wracked by advancing AIDS, who pleads before a cosmic tribunal for more life despite the pain of his disease. The music transforms the repeated phrase, "I want more life," from plea to confident claim for the gay man's place at humanity's table.

Jeffrey Bores, TCGMC's board chair, and his partner, Michael Hawkins, underwrote the trilogy's choral setting by Michael Shaieb, who also composed "Through A Glass, Darkly" for the chorus in 2008. Meet the Composer's MetLife Creative Connections Program provided additional funding to support post-performance conversations with the composer.

The spring chorus program also will include "The Promise of Living" from Aaron Copland's "The Tender Land," "The Impossible Dream" from "Man of La Mancha," "This is the Moment" from "Jekyll and Hyde," and "Here's Where I Stand" from the film "Camp."

More than 750 men have served in the TCGMC's singing ranks since its first concert at the Heritage Hall of the Minneapolis Public Library. The group has recorded 10 CDs and performed with the Minnesota Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, VocalEssence, Ballet of the Dolls, James Sewell Ballet, composer Ned Rorem, Harvey Fierstein, Ann Hampton Calloway, Michael Feinstein, and Holly Near.

The Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus will present its 2010 spring concert performances with the Minnesota Philharmonic Orchestra at the Ted Mann Concert Hall, University of Minnesota West Bank Arts Quarter, Minneapolis, Fri. & Sat., Mar. 26 & 27, 8pm. For tickets call 612.623.2345. Photos by Paul Nixdorf.


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Twins baseball fans amid the ghosts of Minneapolis history

Minneapolis, Minnesota

When fans of the Minnesota Twins baseball team swarm to opening day ceremonies at the new Target Field on the north edge of downtown Minneapolis, Apr. 12, few will have any notion of the area's complex connections to people and pivotal events in the city's history.

Mere steps from the stadium's northwest corner once stood the Oak Lake subdivision, platted in 1880 near Olson Highway (6th Avenue North) and Lyndale Avenue with curving streets and some cul-de-sacs. The lake and its genteel neighborhood are long gone, as are the Jewish, black, and working-class white families that took up residence in successive waves as the original cachet waned.

Larry Millett, in Lost Twin Cities (Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1992), described the neighborhood's evolution and how, by the 1930s, the city had cleared Oak Lake and re-located the farmers' market there.

In Minneapolis in the Twentieth Century: The Growth of an American City (242 pp, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2010), author Iric Nathanson describes the role of land covenants and other implicit understandings that restricted minorities' residential choices to certain parts of the city. The experience and proximity of Jewish and black residents in the larger Oak Lake and Glenwood Avenue sector had important implications for the civil rights movement that unfolded in the second half of the 20th century in a city once known as the capital of anti-Semitism in the United States.

My affinity for the area's history has a personal basis. The families of both my parents resided there at various times, and I was born at Glenwood and Penn avenues.

Earlier, on Jan. 23, 1937, when my grandparents lived at 506 Girard Avenue, my grandfather, Harry Hayden Peterson, was shot and killed a few blocks away at the Fresno Cafe, 1007 Sixth Avenue North. Joseph Taylor, the man who shot him in self-defense, lived a block away at 506 Fremont Avenue. Taylor was properly acquitted on Mar. 2, following a speedy trial. The case was a sensation in the newspapers because Taylor was one of the city's few black entrepreneurs and served as a role model in his community. Life was never the same afterward for the Taylors or for my grandmother and her four children.

By the early 1950s, according to Millett, the city regarded the area as its worst slum and, in 1954, demolished more than 660 structures in a 180-acre area between Glenwood Avenue and Olson Highway.

The intersection of First Avenue North and 6th Street, one block south of Target Field, was the scene in May 1934 of a strikebreaking confrontation between members of a Teamsters union local and 1,000 police deputies backed by commercial interests of the Citizens Alliance. Nathanson recounted the event as "one skirmish in a summer-long strike that provoked full-scale class warfare." The strikers eventually won the sometimes bloody struggle, breaking the monopoly of business interests on the city's power structure and balancing it with the interests of organized labor.

Nathanson includes chapters on more than 100 years of controversy about the structure of Minneapolis' city government; periodic bouts of corruption and indictment of mayors, council members, and police officers; and efforts to redevelop downtown, the neighborhoods, and the riverfront.

Baseball fans who will arrive and depart Target Field via the light rail trains may appreciate Nathanson's last chapter with its mind-numbing detail of how light rail mass transit arrived in the Twin Cities. Folks who have followed or fretted over the 13-year saga of the Shubert Theater's salvation and rehabilitation two blocks from the stadium don't know from nothing about perseverance in pursuit of civic goals.

For decades, municipal and state planners tried to build a freeway along Highway 55/Hiawatha Avenue, following an old route south from downtown to Fort Snelling and the airport. For more than a decade in the 1970s and 80s, hundreds and thousands of residents in south Minneapolis fought those efforts at city hall, at the legislature, and in congress, arguing in favor of an at-grade parkway that allowed for the possibility of light rail transit.

One dramatic confrontation occurred in the lobby of the downtown Federal Building late on a January evening in 1975, when 200+ residents took Congressman Donald Fraser to task for his vote in favor of funding freeway construction along the route. I was there! What Nathanson did not relate about the incident was the fact that residents chartered buses to the event at their own expense after Fraser's office had refused to schedule a meeting at a more convenient time and place. Light rail began running on the non-freeway, Hiawatha Avenue on June 26, 2004 – 29 years later!

In all of "Minneapolis in the Twentieth Century," I found but one factual error. On page 196, Nathanson relates that Rudy Perpich was elected Minnesota's governor in 1976. In fact, as lieutenant governor, Perpich assumed the office of governor on Dec. 29, 1976, following the resignation of Governor Wendell Anderson. Perpich then appointed Anderson to fill the United States Senate vacancy created by the election of Walter Mondale as vice president. Both Perpich and Anderson were defeated for election in November 1978.


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A new gig, 30 days in

Minneapolis, Minnesota

When I assumed duties as executive director of the Southern Theater in Minneapolis 30 days ago, I added a new port of call to the harbors of arts management that I have called home. The time has passed in a whirlwind of 38 meetings and an avalanche of information that requires absorption on a daily basis. If asked six months ago – and I was – I would have said it was impossible to imagine myself in this job. Yet, it feels like what I should be doing right now.

Just today, a long-time friend asked if I was enjoying myself. The politically correct response would have been to say "yes." However, in this economic climate, anyone who purports to lead anything would be crazy to say that he or she welcomes the conundrums that visit every enterprise, whether non-profit or for. What we can say, honestly, is that we welcome the opportunities to solve major problems and wrestle with large challenges. None of us would consciously choose the environment in which most individuals and places of business find themselves.

The Southern Theater faces challenges similar to many, larger than some, and fewer than there could be. Some of the challenges got broadcast far and wide along with the news of my hiring (see: Star Tribune, MinnPost, and Minnesota Public Radio). This scrutiny places us under a magnifying glass in the public eye, but grants us a certain freedom that eludes other arts venues and organizations: because everyone knows we have problems, we can speak about them more openly and solicit solutions more broadly. Other venues and organizations have our same problems, some larger, and some more deadly. Many of our colleagues remain in willful denial or abject terror about their prospects.

All of us need to keep our heads and focus on the step-by-step basics before us. We must raise more money than we spend and spend less money than we have. To accomplish that, we must understand and control our true costs of doing business and price our products and services with that information in mind – balancing certainty with acceptable risk. Easy enough to say, but it will be hell to accomplish. The times present us with an array of undesirable options. Our survival depends upon our ability to choose.

We also need to engage with our community of users – artists and audiences – about the need for subsidy over-and-above the cost of tickets. At the end of a day, someone somewhere must pay the bills. This, too, is easy enough to say, but will be difficult to realize.

Many organizations that engage in the same or similar activities must set aside their competitive instincts and have the conversations that explore ways to share services and costs. Maybe even artistic products. (I know, I know the horror of all that – but if our largest, arts-friendly foundation can use that terminology, so can we!)

We can take heart from the month's-long uptick in the stock market: it has restored much, but not nearly all, of the portfolio value of our arts-centered grant-makers. We will not be out of the woods, however, until rates of unemployment and underemployment get reduced substantially. To the extent that the arts rely upon the discretionary income of individuals and households for most of their revenue, we will be under siege for some time to come.

Cyncis have – and will – lament our prospects and dismiss our progress. It is both a blessing and a curse of my life that I remain, in the face of much evidence to the contrary, an eternal optimist about what can be accomplished.

On March 1, 1910, the Southern Theater threw open its doors to the – largely – Swedish community that built it in the Snoose Boulevard/Seven Corners neighborhood of Minneapolis, overlooking the Bohemian Flats that border part of the Mississippi River. The founders of 100 years ago built their theater with faith in themselves and in a rich future. We have the opportunity to renew that faith today.

Join us on Saturday, Mar. 6, as we celebrate the beginning of the Southern's second century of embrace and engagement with the community that gives it life. The Southern Exposure 2010 gala promises a worthy evening of remembrance and re-commitment. If you can't make it that night, pick a performance from the schedule that appeals to you and resolve to attend it with a friend.

Look for me in the lobby. I want to see new and old friends in this new port of call!


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Notes from a precinct caucus

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The 34 most faithful of Democrats in Ward 6, Precinct 3, of Minneapolis, convened their biennial caucus tonight in the basement of the Plymouth Congregational Church, located eight blocks south of the downtown business and entertainment districts. Upstairs, the church choir rehearsed "The Battle Hymn of the Republic."

The Republicans may have thought about holding a caucus within the Minneapolis city limits, but we really have not encouraged them to do so for decades. Our liberal, Scandinavian tolerance has its limits and extends only to allowing them to cast ballots in November general elections.

Just like two years ago, when people lined up down the sidewalk and around the church to get in, the weather tonight was cold and snowy, the sidewalks icy. Unlike two years ago, there was no line of shivering people waiting to gain entry.

The proposed agenda for our precinct caucus said we would convene at 7pm. The convenor, however, opted to wait until all the stragglers had signed in, and we finally got underway at seven-past-seven.

After reading aloud the requirements for our eligibility to participate – sort of our nod, in its way, to the new political correctness of the right that seeks to cast out the aliens from our midst – the convenor read aloud the affirmative action statement – sort of our nod, in its way, to the old political correctness that seeks to affirm and embrace every form of diversity and nonnormativity known to man (and woman). He also read aloud something called a Platform Statement – a new thing, I believe, in the time-worn proceedings.

After stating his willingness to serve as the permanent caucus chair, we moved, seconded, and elected the convenor to serve in that position in spite of his unorthodox status as a self-identified Caucasian, heterosexual male. The now-permanent caucus chair then asked for a motion seeking authority for himself to appoint two tellers and a recording secretary for the proceedings. Suspecting that he hungered for this additional, less-than-burdensome and generally less-than-thankful task, I moved that he be allowed to do as he wished. After unanimous passage, he appointed his wife as the secretary, and two men – at least one of whom is known to be gay – as tellers.

We then adopted the rules for the conduct of our caucus business.

Then, after stating his willingness to serve as the precinct chair for the next two years, we moved, seconded, and elected the convenor – now-permanent caucus chair – to serve in that position in spite of his unorthodox status. (We residents of the Stevens Square/Loring Heights neighborhood pride ourselves on our open minded world view – whatever its relation to reality!)

After killing time for two minutes to permit the clock to reach 7:30pm, we elected delegates to the State Senate District 61 convention. Because the caucus turn-out two years ago had snaked down the sidewalk and around the church, our precinct had 55 delegate slots to fill. This meant that the 34 people in attendance – plus the four who had sent letters regretting their absence for more pressing matters – all could be delegates merely by signing their names to the form at the front table. To further our masochistic, if not somewhat sadistic tendencies as a political entity, in a similar fashion we determined who would be the 14 delegates to the Minneapolis City Convention (held in May for the purpose of endorsing up to five candidates for the Minneapolis School Board) and the six candidates to the Hennepin County District 3 Convention (held later in February to endorse a candidate for the county commission).

After killing a bit more time, the two appointed tellers – at least one of whom is known to be gay – were allowed to open the ballot box at 8pm to count the straw poll votes for who should carry the party's standard for the office of governor. When the votes were counted, it was revealed that two people had not voted. As for the rest, their results added up as follows: Tom Bakk - 0; Matt Entenza - 6; Susan Gaertner - 0; Steve Kelley - 2; Margaret Anderson Kelliher - 3; John Marty - 6; Felix Montez - 0; Tom Rukavina - 3; R. T. Rybak - 7; Ole Savior - 0; Paul Thissen - 4; Uncommitted - 1.

With that certification of consensus and unified vision, the excitement continued unabated as business then turned to the consideration of resolutions, meant to infect and inform the universal party platform to be adopted at the State Convention in Duluth. In short and perfunctory order, we voted in favor of single-payer health care at the federal and state levels (we insisted on voting separately about the federal and state status); in favor of marriage equality; in favor of an independent inquiry by Obama into the treatment of terrorist detainees following 9/11; in favor – rousingly so – of repealing the status of corporate personhood; in favor of promoting local and sustainable food sources; and in favor of a presidential primary in Minnesota.

Not to be pushed over by the special interests of our friends, neighbors, and nodding acquaintances, however, we did defeat a single motion following vigorous debate. That motion was to cut the size of our legislature by either 1/8 or 1/9 and to save millions of dollars. It was not clear whether we defeated this because we opposed reducing the number of lawmakers, or because we opposed the saving of millions of dollars. Perhaps both.

There being no further business to come before the body, the precinct caucus was adjourned at 8:08pm.


Sunday, January 31, 2010

Metro arts grants exceed $1 million, 2010 to-date

Minneapolis, Minnesota

The Metropolitan Regional Arts Council, based in St. Paul, announced the award in January of 21 Organizational Development grants totaling $190,405, and 24 Capital Grants totaling $190,139. MRAC guidelines require grantees to secure matching funds for their projects.

The January announcement raised to 165 the number of grants made in fiscal year 2010, totaling $1,197,819. Earlier announcements named grantees in the first rounds of the MRAC Community Arts, Creative Intersection, and Arts Activity Support programs.

Year-to-date grants exceed the $1,007,491 total for all of fiscal year 2009. MRAC makes grants to organizations with budgets less than $300,000 located in the seven metropolitan counties of greater Minneapolis and St. Paul. MRAC operates on a fiscal year of July 1 to June 30, and receives its grant funds from the Minnesota State Legislature, the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, and the McKnight Foundation.

Organizational Development grants to 21 organizations in January totaled $190,405, an average of $9,066 each.    

Hennepin County: Art Shanty Projects, $10,000; Frank Theatre, $10,000; Fresh Air, Inc. (KFAI FM), $10,000; JazzMN, Inc., $3,840; Kulture Klub Collaborative, $9,640; Minneapolis Pops Orchestra Association, $6,480; Morris Park Players, $10,000; Off-Leash Area, $5,000; Open Eye Figure Theatre, $10,000; Plymouth Christian Youth Center, $10,000; Rainbow Rumpus, $6,225; Stuart Pimsler Dance and Theater, $10,000; West Bank School of Music, $10,000.
Ramsey County: Nautilus Music-Theater, $10,000; Sample Night Live!, $10,000; Skylark Opera, $9,220; TU Dance, $10,000; Zeitgeist, $10,000. 
Suburban Hennepin County: Katha Dance Theatre, $10,000.
Suburban Ramsey County: Rosetown Playhouse, $10,000.
Washington County: ArtReach Alliance, $10,000.

Capital grants to 24 organizations in January totaled $190,139, an average of $7,922 each.    
Carver County: Chaska Valley Family Theater, $3,312.
Dakota County: Caponi Art Park, $10,000; Dakota Valley Symphony, $8,480.
Hennepin County: Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center, $10,000; Hollywood Studio of Dance, $7,738; Kairos Dance Theatre, $8,916; Minnesota Freedom Band, $9,038; Old Arizona Collaborative, Inc., $8,120; Rain Taxi, Inc., $8,000; Red Eye Collaboration, $8,700; Walking Shadow Theatre Company, $6,813.
Ramsey County: ArtStart, $8,700; East Side Arts Council, $6,080; Minnesota Brass, Inc., $10,000; Sounds of Hope, Ltd., $6,125; Irish Music and Dance Association, $10,000; Scott County River Valley Theatre Company, $8,500.
Suburban Hennepin County: Continental Ballet Company, $4,697; Discovery Arts Council, $7,552; Theater Or, $9,750..
Suburban Ramsey County: Ashland Productions, $10,000; Lakeshore Players, Inc., $9,550.
Washington County: Masquers Theatre Company, $8,905; Music St. Croix, $1,163.

Within its guidelines, MRAC permits organizations to receive more than one project grant in a fiscal year. Of the 165 grants made through January, 13 organizations have been awarded grants for two projects and two organizations have been awarded grants for three.

Organizations receiving two project grants in 2010 include the following (C=Capital, CA=Community Arts, OD=Organizational Development):
Ashland Productions ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA); Caponi Art Park ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA);  Continental Ballet Company ($4,697 C; $5,000 CA); Dakota Valley Symphony ($8,480 C; $5,000 CA); East Side Arts Council ($6,080 C; $10,000 CA); Frank Theatre ($10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); JazzMN, Inc. ($10,000 CA; $3,840 OD); Minnesota Freedom Band ($9,038 C; $2,500 CA); Off-Leash Area ($10,000 CA; $5,000 OD); Open Eye Figure Theatre ($10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); Plymouth Christian Youth Center ($10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); Red Eye Collaboration ($8,700 C; $10,000 CA); Walking Shadow Theatre Company ($6,813 C; $10,000 CA).

Organizations receiving three project grants in 2010 include the following:
Katha Dance Theatre ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA; $10,000 OD); TU Dance ($10,000 C; $10,000 CA; $10,000 OD). 

MRAC is one of 11 regional arts councils serving the state of Minnesota. The Minnesota State Arts Board makes grants statewide to organizations with budgets exceeding $300,000.