With a “Shovel Dance,” the Shubert Theater breaks ground for an expansion and reopening


Nearly 100 years after its original opening, and over 25 years since it last closed its doors, the Shubert Theater finally broke ground on November 19 in a ceremony celebrating the building’s long fight to save itself—a fight that included the building’s block-and-a-half journey from its previous location on Block E to its current home next to the Hennepin Center for the Arts (HCA).

In his opening remarks celebrating the occasion, Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin compared the Shubert’s journey to that of Sisyphus, commenting that in his analogy, Sisyphus not only had to get the rock up the hill, he also had to move it down the street.

The ground-breaking ceremony took place in the vacant lot between the HCA and the old Shubert building, the site where the two buildings will be joined. Andrew Michaelson, a project manager for ArtSpace, the organization behind the revitalization effort, said that the new renovations will include a large lobby area and educational studios.

According to a fact sheet provided by Artspace, the budget for the project, which includes the building’s move, is $42.5 million, $12 million of which has come from the state of Minnesota. Alderman Gary Schiff, who attended the ceremonies, said that the project “will fill a gap in funding for the Twin Cities art scene.”

As politicians, donors, and dance enthusiasts gathered off Hennepin Avenue, local breakdancers showed off their moves on the sidewalk. After speeches given by Mayor R.T. Rybak and other supporters of the project, apprentices from the Minnesota Dance Theatre performed a piece called “Shovel Dance” in a kind of ritualistic blessing of the space.

At the reception following the ceremony, Linda Andrews, artistic director of Zenon Dance Company, said she was very joyful. Zenon is currently housed at HCA and the company is one of the partners who have been part of discussions about making the new performing arts center a reality. “I’ve been waiting for this for 20 years,” Andrews said. “I never lost the faith.”

Carl Flink, artistic director of Black Label Movement, another Twin Cities dance company, said that he was surprised how emotional he got during the ceremony. “It’s a wonderful feeling,” he said, to be joining people reaching for the “mad dream” of creating a center for dance. Flink is confident that the Shubert, rather than creating harmful competition for other venues such as the Southern Theater, will instead “strengthen the ecosystem” of dance in the Twin Cities. “It’s worth taking the chance,” he said.