Will the next mayor of Minneapolis be tuned in to place-making and the arts?


Thank the many organizations that have conducted, recorded and reported on Minneapolis mayoral candidate forums on topics general and specific. In a field of 35 where a credible top few could cancel each other out and a common second or third choice could take the city’s reins, voters are going to have to work harder than ever to effectively exercise their new-found power under ranked choice voting.

At a recent gathering on “place making” at MacPhail Center for Music, Republican candidate Cam Winton painted a word picture, the list of candidate promises—a long scroll piled up and filling the stage and then rolling down the aisles (at least that’s how I saw it).

He went on to not make friends in the arts by saying construction projects are already too expensive, he would not support incorporating arts thinking “further upstream,” as the questioner put it (a concept that the other candidates supported). In general, he expressed appreciation for arts but answered most questions in terms of simple economics.

At the forum’s end during a very brief audience question time, an artist in the audience stated that “artists think differently”…if an artist can’t figure something out immediately, they will “create the tool” to get there. And that’s partly why I chose this forum to illustrate the mayor race. The other reason is I’m a Minneapolis arts commissioner.

The Minneapolis Arts Commission joined the Arts and Culture Policy Study Group in sponsoring the forum. Candidate Don Samuels sent regrets and an arts-supportive statement that moderator Marianne Combs of Minnesota Public Radio read part of.

Attending: Bob Fine, Mark Andrew, Stephanie Woodruff, Jackie Cherryhomes, Cam Winton and Betsy Hodges.

Hodges sits on the Minneapolis City Council Transportation and Public Works Committee, and said “we incorporate arts into every project we do.” She gave examples of having worked on Plan-It Hennepin, bonding for MacPhail, utility box art wraps and support for arts festivals.

Former Council Member Jackie Cherryhomes listed off the vacant theaters she helped redevelop on Hennepin, the Pantages, Orpheum, and Schubert. She chairs the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition where Juxtaposition Arts is. Her further contribution would be to “build public will” behind the arts.

Woodruff, the mayor’s volunteer appointee to the newly formed city Audit Committee, said, quoting activist/politician Harvey Milk, “To fix our cities, start in the neighborhoods.” She said arts in Minneapolis abound in the neighborhoods, accessible and inexpensive to enjoy. “It’s quality of life, not standard of living” that’s important.

Andrew, former long-time chair of the Hennepin County board, added that arts are now a proven strategy for helping kids excel. “We are the sixth most creative city in the U.S. and it is our competitive advantage.”

Bob Fine, currently a park commissioner, said “We have the beautiful part of the city,” describing current plans to turn Washburn Fair Oaks park into an Asian garden, complementary to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) with their renowned Asian art collection nearby.

To a question about the adequacy of about $600,000 for public art and creative economy, in the current mayor’s proposed budget:

Winton said if it serves a good public purpose, money spent on art is fine, but he would have required private funds for the “mood ring in front of the Convention Center.” Calling himself the candidate with fresh eyes, he said “I have met people who don’t have street lamps.”

Cherryhomes said she, too, was skeptical of the Minneapolis Interactive Macro Mood Installation but participated in the opening event there and found it “an incredible evening.” She said she would look for foundation partnerships to make city-invested money go further.

Woodruff said she did not know the details of the budget but that it seemed reasonable. She suggested the city should promote Art-A-Whirl nationally as a destination for people wanting to spend money.

Andrew said he would like to see even more funds for the arts, to incrementally increase percent-for-art and support expansion of community development funding. “We have to be honest, we won’t have enough cash, so we will need creative policy making “to make what we have go farther.”

Fine said he’s not about to commit to a set figure but he intends to review all departments for efficiency. He said “we do have a large county-wide arts tax, through the park board, which exceeds $10 million a year and protects the MIA. He said he is good at trying to get major donors.

Hodges, chair of the Council’s Budget Committee, said we have to think beyond fine arts and what’s built into a project. Spaces for artists to live/work, making Minneapolis an arts destination, out-of-school time and social enterprises.

About gentrification: The candidates gave various answers that added up to an assisted free-market approach. Woodruff would concentrate on making it possible for living wage art careers, Andrew is big on smart growth, compact high density living that drives the cost of infrastructure down.

Cherryhomes said Artspace, which has done housing projects all over the country, finds it hard to create affordable housing for artists here because of city barriers. Fine would make it easier to set up artist co-ops to purchase buildings.

Hodges echoed them all and called for a “10 best ways” commission on the subject. Winton said they’re overcomplicating the issue, and that to bring housing prices down for everyone, increase supply. It’s up to city hall to get out of the way.

And finally, to look at how they pursue arts personally:

Fine reads history and fiction, visits art museums though is “not a big modern art fan.” He holds season tickets to the Guthrie and “never missed a play since the early 1980s.”

Hodges joked about karaoke, sees plays, makes a point of seeing the Fine Arts Pavilion at the Minnesota State Fair, and enjoys the art found in the skyways.

Winton said with small kids, he’s barely been out lately but did musicals in high school and played violin. “Attorneys like structure and symmetry.”

Cherryhomes: Louise Erdrich is her favorite author, and she’s often found at the Dakota enjoying jazz. Her daughter is a singer and actress. Cherryhomes played piano and had dreams of being a cocktail pianist.

Woodruff grew up on a farm, and has played saxophone since fifth grade. She laments losing an art collection in a divorce and now has “four gay husbands” who are artists.

Andrew said he’s been hoarse for 35 years from a voice teacher straining his vocal chords. Both his parents and his siblings have musical talents, his talent is writing. “Here’s what happens when we do arts and culture, we get humanized. “

Northeaster Editor’s Note: Other mayor candidate forums have been documented on www.tcdailyplanet.net. Northeaster listed candidates and contact info in the Sept. 4 issue, available online at www.MyNortheaster.com under “news archive.”

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