2019 Year in Review: Minnesota’s Arts and Culture Scene

 

As we flip back in our mental Rolodex to remember the standout cultural and artistic happenings of 2019, we can generally sort the year’s events into three piles: good, bad, and…complicated. With a quick glance at the year’s headlines, things might appear grim: world leaders are running amok, and irreversible climate change is becoming ever-more apparent. But, upon a closer look, there are several silver linings to be found: the first-ever (!) exhibit showcasing Native female artists was displayed at Mia, the youth are stepping up to save the planet, and an unexpected Midwest spice company is at the forefront of the political resistance. And, I feel somewhat obliged to add: Lizzo!

So without further ado, here is the ultimate—but by no means exhaustive—highlight reel of the year in arts and culture, neatly organized into The Good, The Bad, and It’s Complicated.

Hearts of Our People at the Minneapolis Institute of Art // Photo by Tj Turner

Arts & Entertainment

The Good

  • With the exhibit, “Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists,” the Minneapolis Institute of Art introduced the first-ever exhibition of work devoted to Native American and Canadian female artists. Starting in 2015, the museum worked with up to 21 Native and non-Native female scholars and artists to curate the groundbreaking exhibit, which encompassed the work of over 115 artists from 50 Native communities. 
  • Juxtaposition Arts received another big grant of $50,000 from U.S. Bank for its Northside skateable art plaza project in August. The new funding will go toward programming for the skate plaza, which opened in June. 
  • Community members and city leaders broke ground in October on the renovation and 20,000-foot expansion of the Capri Theater in North Minneapolis, where Prince played his first solo show in 1979. The project is just shy of its $13 million fundraising goal, which will ideally transform the theater from the de facto community center it’s been operating as into a full-fledged working theater.
  • A $1.5 million donation to the Minnesota Museum of American Art has allowed the art museum to continue its build-out in the Pioneer Endicott Building. The first phase of the museum’s new home opened in December of last year; the new expansion of the facility is expected to open in 2021. 
  • Minneapolis’ newest music venue, the Live Nation-owned Fillmore Minneapolis, announced its first musical acts for 2020. Brandi Carlile will christen the North Loop stage with a three-night run in February, followed by local pop-punk group Motion City Soundtrack and blues icon Buddy Guy.
  • The Loft Literary Center hosted the inaugural Wordplay Book Festival, bringing literary icons like Stephen King, Amy Tan, and Dave Barry to Minneapolis. The fest kicked off at First Ave with a show from the Rock Bottom Remainders, a band made up of several authors including King, Tan, Barry, and Mitch Albom.
  • It’s the year of Lizzo, baby! The rapper’s 2017 bop “Truth Hurts” re-emerged and is now the longest-running Billboard Hot 100 No. 1 by a solo female rapper—and with that recognition has come several accusations of plagiarism. (Editor’s note: aren’t accusations of plagiarism a definitive sign that you’ve made it as a musician?)

The Bad

  • The Children’s Theatre faced a firestorm of criticism this year after a jury found the theatre negligent, but not liable, for the sexual assault committed by a teacher against a teenage girl in the 1980s—the subsequent decision to go after the victim to recoup the theatre’s legal fees was quickly reversed, complete with an apology video, days later. In total, 17 plaintiffs have settled cases with the theatre, past staff, or both, implicating 20 former CTC staff members in the widespread abuse scandal, which has been masterfully reported in an ongoing series by Marianne Combs of MPR News.
  • The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra was forced to make cuts in its staff and programming, including its contemporary Liquid Music series, due to significant cuts in corporate funding.  
  • Minneapolis-based Zenon Dance was forced to shut down this summer after 36 years. The dance company cited a severe lack of funding for the primary force behind the decision, namely from cuts over the last two years from long-term corporate partners.  

It’s Complicated

  • Radio host Brian Oake left The Current in August—the decision came after an incident at the Palace Theatre, which was followed by an expletive-ridden Facebook rant by Oake. Fans of Oake started a petition to get him back on the air, but he’s since moved on to start his own podcast, tentatively called “The Brian Oake Show.”
  • A judge sided with workers at The Guthrie Theater in a labor dispute, sending a cease-and-desist to the theater to stop all unfair labor practices. The order found that the theater was actively threatening and penalizing workers who took part in union-protected activities.

Sunset in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness // Photo by Tony Saunders

Science and Environment

The Good

  • 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg took the U.S. by storm (or rather, by solar-powered ship), when she made a 15-day carbon-neutral voyage across the Atlantic Ocean in August, docking in New York City. She then addressed the UN Climate Action Summit, delivering a speech shaming world leaders for their inaction in fighting climate change, before heading to Standing Rock in October in support of the tribes continuing to protest oil pipelines.
  • SpaceX’s capsule successfully completed its journey and attached to the International Space Station 27 hours after blasting off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew-less test flight was designed to show the commercial spacecraft’s ability to safely transport astronauts into orbit. 
  • Counties in northwestern Minnesota are improving traditional methods of waste management, investing in updated machinery that separates recyclable plastics from trash and burns the excess waste to generate energy, rather than bury or burn everything that’s thrown away.  
  • Conditions were cold but clear for the year’s first lunar eclipse on January 20, also called the “super wolf blood moon,” which appeared in the night sky for over three hours. 

The Bad

  • Scientists say North America has lost 3 billion birds over the past 50 years, amounting to more than a quarter of the total bird population. This alarming decline could include our beloved state bird—the National Audubon Society says Minnesota’s dangerously close to losing its loons, as temperatures continue to rise and cold-weather species move farther north.  
  • Over half of Minnesota’s lakes and streams are classified as “impaired,” or fail to meet water quality standards that sustain aquatic life and human health. In total, 581 new waterways have been added to the list for 2020, including a popular stretch of the St. Croix River stretching from Taylors Falls to Stillwater.  

It’s Complicated

  • The New York Times named Duluth as the ultimate destination to escape the effects of climate change, citing the cold temperature, abundance of freshwater, and inland positioning far from rising seas. We’re honored, truly, but please…stay away.
  • In April, scientists revealed the first image ever made of a black hole, compiling data from eight telescopes around the globe. The supermassive black hole that appears in the picture took several days of perfect worldwide conditions to photograph and contains an “event horizon”—the space where gravitational forces are too strong for light to escape—the size of our solar system. If you can manage to digest that without breaking out in an existential sweat, bravo! 

Schell’s Brewery deer have been the topic of social media discussion  // Photo by Jodi Marti

Culture

The Good

  • In April, organizers for Grand Old Day announced its cancellation due to high costs—but after the people and businesses of St. Paul rallied to raise last-minute funds, the 45-year-old Grand Avenue block party was resurrected and held on June 2.   
  • The Little Free Library turned 10 this year. The first schoolhouse-style box was constructed in Hudson, Wisconsin, by founder Todd Bol as a tribute to his mother, a lifelong educator; now, there are over 80,000 registered Little Free Libraries all over the world.   

The Bad

  • After 62 years in business, Lee’s Liquor Lounge closed its doors in May. The decision was made after it was decided that the bar’s parking lot would be used for light rail construction. The bar was known and loved for its live music, showcasing blues, Americana, and country music.
  • The Twins did what the Twins do: get our hopes up before crashing and burning in a series with the Yankees.

It’s Complicated

  • After an outcry on social media over the state of the deer held in a pasture at Schell’s Brewery—a 159-year-old tradition—the brewery spoke up to tell patrons that the deer were simply aging, not starving, and asked the public to stop feeding them food scraps. “Items we’ve had to pull out of their feeding area include orange peels, plastic, paper, chicken meat with bones, mushrooms, and a beef burrito still wrapped in plastic,” the brewery said on Facebook.
  • Wisconsin-based Penzey’s Spices was found to be spending more on impeachment ads than literally anyone else, save for Trump himself, spending upwards of $100k on Facebook ads.  
  • People have gone batshit crazy for Popeyes’ chicken sandwich this year, a fervor largely sparked by social media that’s led to supply shortages, online feuds with Chick-fil-A, and a group literally holding up a Houston branch at gunpoint to get their hands on the sandwich.