Year in Review: Minnesota’s Arts & Culture Scene in 2018

A mural on Juxtaposition Art's current building in North Minneapolis // Photo by Tj Turner

A mural on Juxtaposition Art’s current building in North Minneapolis // Photo by Tj Turner

Minnesota’s arts and culture scene experienced its fair share of high highs and low lows this year. From the #metoo movement bringing about leadership changes at notable organizations to our state making history by electing the first Somali-American to the U.S. Congress, there was no lack of drama, excitement, anticipation, and disappointment in 2018. Here’s a look back at some of the year’s most memorable events. 

Notable announcements, events, & anniversaries

Photographer Wing Young Huie became the first photographer to receive the McKnight Distinguished Artist Award in the award’s 21-year history. The prize includes $50,000 and is given by the McKnight Foundation to one Minnesota artist each year.

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The Subversive Sirens, a Minnesota-based synchronized swim team that infuses its aquatic routines with social justice messages, won a gold medal at this year’s Gay Games in Paris. 

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The Department of Natural Resources approved renaming Lake Calhoun as Bde Maka Ska in January. Pronounced beh-DAY mah-KAH skah, the name means White Earth Lake in the Dakota language.

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Minnesota artist Ashley Hanson was chosen in April to be an Obama Foundation fellow—one of just 20 individuals picked from among more than 20,000 applicants from 191 countries. Based in Granite Falls, Minnesota, Hanson uses art to revitalize and connect rural communities.

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Super Bowl LII took over the Twin Cities and metro area in January. Minnesota Nice was in full swing as thousands of volunteers helped windchill-shocked visitors navigate the skyways, locate the light rail, and find their way to and from U.S. Bank Stadium.

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On June 12, and into the morning of June 13, a raccoon slowly scaled the 25-story UBS Building in downtown St. Paul and quickly captured the attention of the world. Dubbed the #MPRraccoon, she eventually made it to the roof, enjoyed a hard-earned snack, and was later released in the suburbs.

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Duluth public schools removed “To Kill a Mockingbird” and “Huckleberry Finn” from their curriculums due to their use of offensive racial slurs. The decision was supported by the local NAACP chapter. 

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In lieu of paying mounting city fines, North Minneapolis’ Juxtaposition Arts prematurely demolished their dilapidated building on the corner of West Broadway and Emerson Avenue. Until they can raise the capital for a new building, the youth arts organization will install a multi-use skate park in the lot, designed by youth artists of JXTA in collaboration with West Broadway Coalition and City of Skate.

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Minnesota State Rep. Ilhan Omar became the first Somali-American elected to the U.S. Congress in November. She and Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.

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The Minnesota Fringe Fest turned 25 this year. The 11-day, anything-goes theater festival has grown exponentially since its founding, and now stretches across several theaters and boasts hundreds of shows.

 

Notable closings & departures

The first shanties being set up during the Art Shanty Build Day on January 13, 2018 // Photo by Domini Brown

Carr Hagerman, who worked for the Renaissance Festival for 40 years, was charged with raping a female photographer on the festival grounds last year. Two other women also sued festival organizers, accusing the company of fostering a sexually charged, hostile work environment.

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Franconia Sculpture Park fired co-founder and CEO John Hock in August for “inappropriate conduct toward a young female” at the park.

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Three of four senior leaders at Guthrie Theater resigned within two months of each other this summer. Originally hired as members of Guthrie artistic director Joseph Haj’s “dream team,” director Jennifer Bielstein resigned in June, development director Danielle St. Germain-Gordon in May, and director of production David Stewart in July.

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The Red Eye Theater lost its Loring Park home of 29 years when developer Reuter Walton bought the property to build a six-story apartment complex. Red Eye co-founders Steve Busa and Miriam Must also announced their departure from the company but said on their website that they planned to reestablish the company “in a new performance space that will continue to serve the Twin Cities […] under a new generation of artistic leadership.” 

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Duluth venue Red Herring Lounge owner Bob Monahan laid off his entire staff in October in what he said was “an effort to keep the downtown bar and music/arts venue open.” 

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The Northeast Minneapolis Artist Association (NEMAA), best known for its annual Art-A-Whirl festival, did not receive an expected $60,000 Minnesota State Arts Board Festival Grant or an additional $20,000 in additional grants. Executive director Dameun Strange and a part-time employee were let go; interim executive director Anna Becker was NEMAA’s only employee at the time of publication.

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Citing “increasingly difficult financial problems,” Patrick’s Cabaret executive artistic director Scott Artley decided to close the theater after 32 years. The cabaret focused on serving artists of color, artists with disabilities, and homosexual and transgender artists. It threw a “FUNeral” in June to mark its closing.

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In May, a fire destroyed the Robert Shoes building in South Minneapolis, a studio and living space for dozens of artists, photographers, DJs, and designers. Thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment and countless pieces of art were lost.

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Park Square Theatre artistic director Richard Cook retired from his position in September after 43 years with the theater.

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The Ivey Awards called it quits after 13 years. The annual awards show celebrated and brought awareness to professional theater in Minnesota. 

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The Minnesota State Arts Board did not renew a grant for Art Shanty Projects, which in past years accounted for some 70 percent of the nonprofit’s budget. Despite the budget shortage, board chair Jason Buranen hinted at a return: “Our mission is still to run the art shanty program and put that event on, and we’re working to do that,” he told the Southwest Journal. Last year set a record for the nonprofit, with 40,000 people visiting Lake Harriet over three weekends in January and February to see the shanties.

 

Notable appointments & openings

Mai Vang presents a photograph titled "Brian Williston, North Dakota" by Alec Soth // Photo by Kevin Kramer

The M’s registrar, Mai Vang, presents a photograph titled “Brian Williston, North Dakota” by Alec Soth // Photo by Kevin Kramer

The Walker Art Center announced Mary Ceruti as its next executive director, starting January 2019. Ceruti comes to the Walker from SculptureCenter, a multidisciplinary organization in Long Island City, New York, where she was director and chief curator. Former Walker executive director Olga Viso stepped down at the end of 2017.

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Intermedia Arts, the nonprofit arts organization that suspended operations and cut its entire staff in September 2017, found a buyer for its Lyn-Lake location. The deal was signed with RightSource Compliance, a Twin Cities affordable housing company.

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St. Paul’s oldest LGBTQ bar, The Town House Bar, underwent an ownership and name change. Now called The Black Hart of Saint Paul, the bar was bought by Wes Burdine, co-owner of the Minnesota soccer website FiftyFive.One. Burdine says the bar will maintain its LGBTQ-friendly legacy while adding in his own passion for soccer. 

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After five years of sitting empty, Uptown’s Suburban World was purchased by a local development group and should be back up and running by spring 2019. The 1920s-era theater is being returned it to its former glory as a live music and entertainment space, and will be the only live music venue in the Calhoun Square commercial district. 

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The Minnesota Orchestra got a new president and CEO: Michelle Miller Burns, who assumed the role in September following Kevin Smith, who led the organization for four years. 

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Minnesota Lynx star and Gopher alum Lindsay Whalen was announced as the new head coach of the Gopher women’s basketball team. Whalen has won four WNBA championship titles and is the second-highest scorer in U of M history. She retires from the WNBA as the all-time winningest player in league history.

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Har Mar Superstar is opening a bar in Moorhead with fellow musicians Eric Odness (bassist for Primitive Weapons), Rob Pope (bassist for Spoon), and Frank Bevan (former frontman for Freedom Fighters). Harold’s is expected to be open by the end of the year.

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After a year of dormancy, the Varsity Theater reopened its doors in February. The new ownership recruited Live Nation to bring live music back to the theater. 

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The Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery opened in north Minneapolis in September. The museum and gallery will focus on African Americans in Minnesota, with exhibits rotating every few months.

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The Minnesota Museum of American Art debuted its newest home in downtown St. Paul’s Pioneer Endicott building on December 2. The $23 million build-out is split into three phases, the first of which reintroduces The M to the community with the exhibition “100 Years and Counting,” featuring select works from the museum’s collection of more than 4,500 pieces.

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South Minneapolis’ Parkway Theater reopened in September after a summer-long renovation. The 90-year-old theater’s lobby and bathrooms were updated, a new bar was installed (and will serve a menu of craft beer and Tattersall-exclusive cocktails), and all of the seats were reupholstered.