In the early morning hours of June 4, a crowd gathered around a van parked in a downtown Minneapolis parking lot for a spontaneous performance by some of the Twin Cities’ top MCs—including Astronautalis, a longtime Seattle resident who’s just moved to Minnesota, drawn by our strong indie hip-hop scene. Astronautalis’s move is a coup for the Twin Cities, and on Saturday morning the crowd clapped and cheered as Astronautalis improvised a rap about his newly adopted home town. Afterwards, Twitter exploded with echoes of the refrain, “I love this town!”
Not that Twin Cities residents need much excuse to sing the virtues of the Twin Cities. This is sometimes in the form of insecure justification (“New York thinks they’re a big deal, but we have…”) and sometimes in the form of positive celebration (“There’s so much going on this weekend!”). At its best, though, discussion of our local lifestyle and arts scene is constructive. The Twin Cities are what we make them: our hip-hop scene didn’t just erupt fully formed, it was built over many years by thousands of musicians and fans.
What can we do, constructively, to help make sure that our cultural life remains strong and diverse—and becomes even stronger and more diverse? There are many things we can do, but here are five big ones.
1. Maintain strong public funding for the arts. In the past, I’ve had mixed feelings about public funding for the arts: can we trust a public entity to make risky, progressive choices about what projects to support? Minnesota’s recent experience with the Legacy Amendment suggests that the answer is yes. We can and should remain vigilant to the wasting or misappropriation of government funds for the arts, but overall I’ve been very impressed at how many adventurous projects I’ve seen that have received Legacy Amendment funding. Let’s make sure this law stays in effect, and that our elected representatives don’t use its existence to argue for cuts in other appropriations to support the arts and arts education.
2. Maintain strong private support for the arts. One reason our cultural life is so strong is that historically, big corporations like Target, General Mills, and 3M have made a point of contributing to the community—specifically the arts—through financial and in-kind donations. Let’s continue to acknowledge and celebrate those corporations that invest in our community’s cultural life.
3. Enact progressive legislation. It goes without saying that keeping our community healthy, welcoming, supportive, and livable for all will enhance the quality of life for everyone. Let’s continue to invest in education, transportation, health care, and support for those who need it. Let’s fight legislation that demonizes those who help make our community strong. And for God’s sake, let’s take another look at those bummer laws that keep liquor stores closed on Sundays and that shutter bars at 2 a.m. Let’s allow art galleries to serve wine; let’s keep 18+ shows legal for the benefit of bands, venues, and our huge young adult community; and let’s encourage the sustainable development of new venues and public spaces where art can happen.
4. Explore. Our most prominent cultural institutions—the Guthrie, the Walker, the MIA, First Ave—are pillars of our community and deserve our enthusiastic support. That said, it does you and our arts scene good every once in a while to venture off the beaten path! There are dozens of theater companies presenting seasons of work, dozens of art galleries displaying cool stuff, and dozens of music venues hosting bands. Check publications like the Daily Planet, Vita.mn, the A.V. Club, City Pages, l’etoile, MinnesotaPlaylist, mplsart.com, and CakeIn15 for fresh ideas about things to do. Here at the Daily Planet, we especially try to highlight the rich cultural life of the Twin Cities’ ethnic and immigrant communities.
5. Keep our eyes open. The Twin Cities are great, but New York isn’t all that bad either. Neither is Chicago, or L.A., or Austin, or (believe it or not) St. Louis. Let’s not be insular—let’s keep our eyes open to see what’s working in other cities, and take that as inspiration for our own beloved Twin Towns.
Photo: Astronautalis performs at the Triple Rock Social Club in March 2011. Photo by Meredith Westin.