Girls’ Night Out at MMAA


If you’re not familiar with Desdamona, see her as soon as you can.

My #1 destination for girls’ night out was once a place where we’d find single, good-looking men. These days, I would rather they go to the trouble of finding me. Besides, some of my friends are now married or otherwise done looking. So now I’ve got my sights set on places that celebrate women.

Women-owned restaurants, fashion shows and jewelry parties, women business-owner gatherings, and, of course, art, music and theater created by women. The latter is my favorite because it indulges two passions at once: the arts and networking.

I cannot begin to describe my satisfaction in watching girlfriends’ faces as they meet a female from another circle and connect. Maybe it’s a laugh they share, or a business contact, or some poor guy they’ve both dated and dumped. Regardless, I relish the morning-after emails thanking me for getting all of us together.

Thursday night, July 19, was one such night. I had invited a few dozen women, and seven came: one from work; one from my group of Dining Divas; one from my writers-and-creatives group, Algonquin Hotdish; one who is an artist and a teacher (I met her at a gallery show); and one I met at a party, who brought two friends. Our destination: the new exhibit opening and “Patio Night” at Minnesota Museum of American Art.

Presented as a collaboration between MMAA and the Minnesota Historical Society, In Her Own Right: Minnesota’s First Generation of Women Artists features 100 paintings by five of the most influential female artists in Minnesota, all born before 1900. To read all about these five women, click here for Mary Abbe’s review in the Star Tribune. But I have to say, for our group of eight, the star attraction was the spoken word artist on the patio: Desdamona. Omigosh. We were blown away.

If you’re not familiar with the genre of musical literature known as spoken word, or performance poetry, check out the best national online magazine on the subject, Metaphor, published by local journalist Matt Peiken. If you’re not familiar with Desdamona, see her as soon as you can. Take your mother. Take your daughters. I’m serious.

In fact, one of the highlights of Desdamona’s program was the moment after she performed a soulful piece about an abused woman who serves time for killing her abuser. A woman’s voice called from the audience, “I need a hug.” The woman rose from her folding chair and walked toward the stage. Desdamona stepped down from her riser. They hugged. They both burst into tears. My group assumed it was her mother, but I checked with Desdamona and she said, “That wasn’t my Mom. Just a random person who needed a hug.” There was not a dry eye under the patio sky.

Wiping her tears on her sleeve as she stepped up to the microphone, and taking a deep breath, Desdamona whispered, “The next one’s a prayer.”

In my peripheral vision, the American flag waved in the breeze, casting its shadow on the Mississippi riverboats below. I thought of mothers and children; the soldiers in Iraq and the National Guard troops about to come home; my girlfriends and the love and support we give each other. I wondered if men have these moments, and recalled an executive at work who confided in me about the tears he had shed when he and his brother and cousin, on a motorcycle ride together, took an unplanned turn and ended up at the top of Niagara Falls just as the sun went down. He had said, “I love you guys,” and he had meant it. Yes, men do have these moments, I guess.

We all wanted to go in and see the artwork, but we remained riveted to the stage until dusk, and had just 30 minutes inside the museum. We bought CDs from Desdamona and her opening act, Molly Dean—an enchanting singer I’d love to hear again.

I wish that I could give you informed commentary on the exhibit itself, but we spent so little time that I will need to go back. And I will—the show runs through October 28.

One of the best parts of a girls’ night out is the food. We always find somewhere to eat. After the MMAA shooed us out the door past closing time (we really tried to see the art!), we walked two or three blocks to Pazzaluna. There we had to order quickly, as the kitchens in St. Paul close up by 10 p.m. The calamari there is amazing—no breading, just broth. That’s my favorite. There’s a yummy antipasti plate, too.

As we passed our plates around and as we dished about our lives, my heart swelled with pride at being a part of the “club” of all the fabulous, smart, funny, active, involved women I know, who not only support arts and culture but who experience every facet of life—work, travel, parenting, relationships, hobbies, politics—to the fullest. I am conscious that we owe a debt of gratitude to women such as Frances Cranmer Greenman, Alice Hugy, Josephine Lutz Rollins, Clara Mairs, and Ada Wolfe—the artists featured now at MMAA—and to women like Desdamona, who eloquently show and tell the world just what strong, vibrant women are made of.