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Arts

Year in Review 2021: Arts and Culture

We really hated Van Gogh, but 'Frozen' was pretty fun.

Rajané Katurah and JuCoby Johnson in 'What to Send Up'
Photo by Leal-Studios LLC

In 2021, we thought we were going to get out of the house. We were mostly wrong. But still, arts and theater orgs managed to find new ways to work around the pandemic. Let’s take a moment to reflect.

Theater Started Up Again, and Sometimes It Was Weird

Local makers are having a big moment these days, making art that is accessible, functional, and affordable. Mpls Craft Market led the way, setting up an insane amount of events at brew pub parking lots, open warehouse spaces, and other pandemic-approved spaces. Pop-up markets also returned to galleries and other spaces this year, making it even easier to avoid the mall during holiday season, including Raging Art On at Gamut (through 12.22), Giftyshoppy at Rosalux (through 12.23), and the Artisan Holiday Market at IDS (also through 12.23).

What were people finding at these markets? All kinds of things to take home, including snarky cross stitchcolorful funfetti potterypins featuring local in-jokeslocal gig posterscute cards, and plenty of beer on tap. Our Freeloader Friday column basically features a handful of these free gigs every weekend.

Now let’s talk about Art with a capital “A.” Museums, much like theaters in town, are cautiously starting to bring back exhibitions. The Minneapolis Institute of Art is currently hosting a truly beautiful exhibition celebrating 20 years of print art at Highpoint Center for Printmaking (through January 9). Julie Buffalohead, Jim Hodges, Julie Mehretu, David Rathman, Do Ho Suh, and Dyani White Hawk are just a few of the artists featured in this show, which includes over 175 drafts, test prints, and final products from the Lake Street organization. I’m also excited to check out the Kamoda Shōji (1933-1983) exhibition, which features over 50 works from the revolutionary ceramicist on display for the first time outside of Japan.

The Walker Art Center is also offered new works after a brief respite in 2020. One of our favorites is the mid-career retrospective of Julie Mehretu (through March 6). The Ethiopian-born, Harlem-residing artist creates paintings, prints, and other works that are a whirlwind of energy, color, and architecture. It’s lovely, breathtaking work. The museum also brought back the British Arrow Awards (funny commercials!), hosted the post-Thanksgiving Choreographer’s Evening, and added Angela Two Stars’s Okciyapi to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Oh, and there was a bunch of panic when the Spoonbridge Cherry lost its titular cherry. Don’t worry, folks, it’s taking a trip to New York for some paint maintenance and will return mid-January. 

Finally, let’s talk about huge, expensive, touring “experiences.” These are nothing new, but they seemed to grab the attention (and, sometimes ire) of people ready to get out of lockdown. Devohn Bland visited the Van Gogh immersive experience, and left feeling pretty pissed off: “This isn’t a show where folks pay respects to Van Gogh as much as it is a show where a few people profit off of him. A show highlighting how thirsty Minneapolis elites are to be on the same level of elites in other major cities, where these exhibits are the norm. An event where the mayor does some election season photo ops while people see the augmented works of a man who had no followers in his lifetime.”

But it wasn’t all a bust. Gigi Berry had a great time at Quantum Mirror, a traveling show featuring virtual reality, videos spectacle, and an infinity room full of mirrors, including the floor. Our review was quick to point out that this wasn’t just a selfie-op (though it is certainly that, too). But it was also an unexpectedly cathartic experience. “When we entered the waiting area, our guides asked us to think about three things while we experience this: our digital selves, our physical selves, and our infinite selves. This was already blowing my mind.”

You know how, if you end up in a close enough seat, you can watch the spittle fly from the actors mouths? Yeah, in 2021 most live theater had to continue its break.

Still some theaters found a way to coexist with the pandemic. Pillsbury House Theatre, located three blocks from George Floyd Square, turned theater into a healing, cathartic experience with What to Send Up When It Goes Down, a piece that was performed by Black actors for Black audiences both outside and eventually inside their space. 

“All of theater, when done well, is a kind of ritual,” explained director Signe V. Harriday during a joint interview with her colleague Noël Raymond in mid-August. “When we name it explicitly as a ritual, it invites the possibility of being changed by the experience. And I know that I was changed, in the best of ways. I was renewed, oftentimes. My spirit was affirmed.”

The Lake Street Truth Collective, a group of 10 residents of the area, teamed up with the Graves Foundation to turn the burned out space formerly known as Roberts Shoes (Lake and Chicago) into a mixed-use space serving the neighborhood. They hosted local forums, standup comedy nights, experimental performance art, a ‘zine workshop, and queer, LatinX dance nights last summer. 

“A group of folks came together a couple of months ago and started talking about the collective trauma that Lake Street has gone through,” explained Collective member Kay Adam in August. “We realized there was a need for a space where neighbors could talk to other neighbors and get to know each other.” 

Some of the big venues also returned, cautiously. Hennepin Theatre Trust hosted a variety of programs, including traveling Broadway shows, kicking things off in October with a crowd pleasing production of Frozen that brought Disneyphiles and little girls in princess dresses to downtown Minneapolis. Also out on the town that night? Lots and lots of Cleveland Browns fans.

Around the same time, the Guthrie Theater launched a new, smaller season with Heidi Schreck’s memoir play, What the Constitution Means to Me. We’re still clearly in a pandemic, though: “The Guthrie’s bars and refreshment stands were empty,” said Jay Gabler of opening night. “Instead, stanchions marked a line snaking past the Target Lounge for masked theatergoers to get their vaccine cards checked before making their way to the McGuire Proscenium Stage.”

A Christmas Carol, a longtime Guthrie holiday tradition, was also able to return in-person in November, though one unfortunate incident reminded audiences that lockdown and coronavirus has been hard on a lot of people’s mental health.

Finally, in labor news, Actors’ Equity Association enacted its “Open Access” program in July, which made it easier to join the union, but people also worried that its restrictions would ultimately make it harder for some members to find work. Union members can only work on union productions, and the Twin Cities is a mix of union and non-union theater organizations.

Early numbers on how Open Access will increase equity look promising, however. “Roughly a third of new members through Open Access are POC, compared with roughly a quarter of the total membership,” Equity representative Gabriela Geselowitz told us in November.

Credit: La Dona

Artists’ Marts for the Win in 2021

Local makers are having a big moment, creating art that is accessible, functional, and affordable. Mpls Craft Market led the way, setting up an insane amount of events at brew pub parking lots, open warehouse spaces, and other pandemic-approved spaces. Pop-up markets also returned to galleries and other spaces this year, making it even easier to avoid the mall during holiday season, including Raging Art On at Gamut (through 12.22), Giftyshoppy at Rosalux (through 12.23), and the Artisan Holiday Market at IDS (also through 12.23).

What were people finding at these markets? All kinds of things to take home, including snarky cross stitch, colorful funfetti pottery, pins featuring local in-jokes, local gig posters, cute cards, and plenty of beer on tap. Our Freeloader Friday column basically features a handful of these free gigs every weekend.

Now let’s talk about Art with a capital “A.” Museums, much like theaters in town, are cautiously starting to bring back exhibitions. The Minneapolis Institute of Art is currently hosting a truly beautiful exhibition celebrating 20 years of print art at Highpoint Center for Printmaking (through January 9). Julie Buffalohead, Jim Hodges, Julie Mehretu, David Rathman, Do Ho Suh, and Dyani White Hawk are just a few of the artists featured in this show, which includes over 175 drafts, test prints, and final products from the Lake Street organization. I’m also excited to check out the Kamoda Shōji (1933-1983) exhibition, which features over 50 works from the revolutionary ceramicist on display for the first time outside of Japan.

The Walker Art Center is also offered new works after a brief respite in 2020. One of our favorites is the mid-career retrospective of Julie Mehretu (through March 6). The Ethiopian-born, Harlem-residing artist creates paintings, prints, and other works that are a whirlwind of energy, color, and architecture. It’s lovely, breathtaking work. The museum also brought back the British Arrow Awards (funny commercials!), hosted the post-Thanksgiving Choreographer’s Evening, and added Angela Two Stars’s Okciyapi to the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. Oh, and there was a bunch of panic when the Spoonbridge and Cherry lost its titular fruit. Don’t worry, folks, it’s taking a trip to New York for some paint maintenance and will return mid-January. 

Finally, let’s talk about huge, expensive, touring “experiences.” These are nothing new, but they seemed to grab the attention (and, sometimes ire) of people ready to get out of lockdown. Devohn Bland visited the Van Gogh immersive experience, and left feeling pretty pissed off: “This isn’t a show where folks pay respects to Van Gogh as much as it is a show where a few people profit off of him. A show highlighting how thirsty Minneapolis elites are to be on the same level of elites in other major cities, where these exhibits are the norm. An event where the mayor does some election season photo ops while people see the augmented works of a man who had no followers in his lifetime.”

But it wasn’t all a bust. Gigi Berry had a great time at Quantum Mirror, a traveling show featuring virtual reality, videos spectacle, and an infinity room full of mirrors, including the floor. Our review was quick to point out that this wasn’t just a selfie-op (though it is certainly that, too). But it was also an unexpectedly cathartic experience. “When we entered the waiting area, our guides asked us to think about three things while we experience this: our digital selves, our physical selves, and our infinite selves. This was already blowing my mind.”