The Twin Cities have long been distinguished by a strong and diverse arts scene. On June 12, representatives from five high-profile organizations and one area foundation convened at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts for a panel meeting to discuss the current state of the arts in the city.
The public meeting was sponsored by the Minneapolis Arts Commission, the volunteer body that oversees the City of Minneapolis’s public art programs and civic promotion of the arts. Facilitating the event was FOX 9 news anchor Robyn Robinson, who is well-known for her support of the arts.
In 2005, the Minneapolis arts scene reached a peak of excitement: major centers including the Walker Art Center and the Guthrie Theater expanded, and national attention was drawn to the area. The June 12 panel served as an opportunity to bring the group together to talk about how to keep the momentum going. Panelists included Jennifer Komar Olivarez, associate curator at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts; Philippe Vergne, deputy director and chief curator at the Walker Art Center; Jocelyn Hale, executive director of The Loft Literary Center; Lily Schwartz, director of Pops and special projects with the Minnesota Orchestra; John Miller-Stephany, associate artistic director at the Guthrie Theater; and Vickie Benson, the McKnight Foundation’s program director for the arts.
“Know that the City of Minneapolis views the arts as an essential part of the community.” -Minneapolis City Council Chairwoman Barb Johnson
Minneapolis City Council Chairwoman Barb Johnson offered a gracious welcome, thanking the Minneapolis Arts Commission for its work. “The arts nurture what is an important part of our city’s sense and also our economy…know that the City of Minneapolis views the arts as an essential part of the community.”
Robinson walked the panel through a series of questions related to the status of the organizations and how they were addressing issues ranging from financing their larger facilities to engaging the community and nurturing local artists. How can the city stay vital and active? How healthy are the arts compared to their peers in the rest of the country? How do organizations grow while maintaining their artistic integrity?
The panelists agreed on how healthy the Minneapolis arts scene is. Philippe Vergne said that he was initially surprised when he came to this part of the world that there was so much to do. “The cultural vivacity is impressive here. [It’s a] city of options in all disciplines; there is a dynamic group of artists.”
Lily Schwartz agreed. “The reputation of ‘the Mini-Apple’ is true…there is so much going on…that you can hear a salsa band, as well as classical or jazz in one city on any given night is very impressive.”
“The reputation of ‘the Mini-Apple’ is true…there is so much going on…that you can hear a salsa band, as well as classical or jazz in one city on any given night is very impressive.”
Panelists also talked about the changing economy and the need be smarter in the ways they do business. They discussed how their organizations found methods of being creative with programming by finding ways to reach out to the community to make the arts accessible, while also running leaner organizations. One example cited was “Talking Volumes,” a joint book club of The Loft Literary Center, Minnesota Public Radio and the Star Tribune.
Much of the evening focused on the individual arts organizations and their programming. Yet in response to an audience member’s question about how groups were working to cultivate local and regional artists, each offered examples of how they worked with area artists through local projects and programs. Miller-Stephany, from the Guthrie, said that it’s a two-way street: the Guthrie has helped build local acting talent, and smaller theaters have developed talent that the Guthrie has used. In addition, local theater and dance groups—such as Frank Theatre, James Sewell Ballet and Penumbra Theatre—have used the Guthrie stages for their own productions.
Approximately 50 community members attended the event. Vicki Benson earned a round of applause for her comments that “we can’t have the arts without the artists” and “the artists are what bring vibrancy to our community.” However, after the event, Minneapolis artist Barbara Harman expressed discontent. “I was disappointed that there weren’t individual artists and that the focus was entirely organizations.”
The panel’s general conclusion was that the arts are still strong and vibrant in the Minneapolis, but, as Miller-Stephany said, there is danger in becoming complacent. “It’s always good to see what more can be done.”
Betsy Mowry works as an arts administrator with COMPAS and the Arts & Culture Partnership of St. Paul.