Friday, July 5, 2019

In the Midst of Creativity

I recently attended the American for the Arts Annual Convention (AFTACON) in Minneapolis. The pre-conference activities I attended revolved around public art. This included sessions and tours all day Thursday and sessions on Friday. It was enjoyable to share with outta-towners the great wealth of public art and creative public engagement that happens in Minnesota and the Twin Cities.

I have always known that the Twin Cities are a unique place for the arts, but seeing the breadth and depth of community engagement that happens here is really inspirational. The sheer amount of community-oriented arts activity is astonishing, and this doesn't include all of the studio artists and arts education folks in the Twin Cities.

The Twin Cities really are a leader in the arts in the country and should take great pride in that. I have been fortunate to be a studio artist and an arts administrator for many years. Creating programming at the Como Park Zoo and Conservatory was the beginning of my community-oriented experience. Through that programming, I met and partnered with so many amazing arts organizations and artists. Moving city-wide, in 2003, to become the Arts and Gardens Coordinator for the Saint Paul Department of Parks and Recreation led to so many more partnerships with bigger organizations, like the Ordway Theater for the Performing Arts. Now, my role with Metro Transit is leading me back to more partnerships with individual artists and entrepreneurs, as well as maintaining partnerships with new and familiar organizations. I love seeing so much of the Twin Cities art world through my daily work.

I also recently got together with comedian Colleen Kruse to talk about the Warehouse Districts in the 1980's. Much has been written about the Minneapolis music scene of the 80's. It was vibrant and put Minneapolis on the map. But, I will always assert that the music scene was just a part of an incredibly active warehouse scene in both Minneapolis and Saint Paul that saw great comedians, painters, sculptors, designers and creative folk rise to national attention within their fields. It was the "primordial ooze" of artists of all sorts rubbing shoulders that led to such an over-flow of creativity that it had to be recognized by the world.

I have often lamented the dispersing of that scene: the gentrification of the warehouses when stadiums were built, the technology-fueled rise of independence for creatives, and the cultural desire for urban "cleanliness." But, as I attended this conference, I had the thought that maybe that scene isn't gone. Maybe the warehouses are not empty of artists because the rest of society moved-in, but because the buildings themselves could no longer support the amount of creativity that has been unleashed.

One session I attended at the AFTACON conference was presented by Shanai Matteson. She began a bar called the Water Bar. It is an art piece, it is a bar, it is a bar that only serves water. The water they serve, for free, is from different places. You can try water from different places and see how it tastes... and get into a conversation about water. They "serve water to build relationships that transform culture." In Minnesota there are more than 100,000 people employed by the arts. The arts have moved into every corner of the state and are engaging a vast majority of it's citizenry. Ashley Hanson is working to transform small Minnesota towns through encouraging an arts economy. We have an amazing theater scene throughout the state, art centers are opening up everywhere and, of course, music is still a mainstay with more and more artists and opportunities.

I am so humbled to be living here in Minnesota amidst all of these many great artists and to share my work in places like International Falls, Hopkins and Western Wisconsin. I know my newsletter readers appreciate my art, but I encourage everyone to experience even more of this great art scene. Go to plays, listen to music, fill your home with fine art, make your own art, or... maybe just order a glass of a bar and get into a conversation.

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