First Friday at 2010 Artblok

On the first Friday evening of each month, the artists of 2010 Artblok in Northeast Minneapolis, along with FOCI Minnesota Glass Arts Center, open their doors to the public from 5pm–9pm.

Participating artists will change each month. Stop by the studios and see what they’re creating! Find more info at the Facebook page.

Art, Printed: Computers are redefining fine art. But is that a good thing?

A 3D printer at MCAD creating an artist's design // Photo by Harrison Barden

A 3D printer at MCAD creating an artist’s design // Photo by Harrison Barden

Watching a lumbering 3D printer slowly churn back and forth, painstakingly adding minute layer to minute layer of material to an ambiguous shape is far from exciting. It can take hours—sometimes days—until a final product reveals itself. But for as cumbersome as 3D printing can be, the technology has had a profound impact on the art world in recent years, affecting everything from how art is created to how it’s shared and consumed.

If the idea of using computer software and a printer seems antithetical to fine art, it’s worth talking to third-year Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) student Zachery North. He’s an advocate for using 3D printing to make art and sees many reasons to embrace the technology. “I can much more easily correct or change things that don’t work. My work is very iterative and 3D helps me keep building on what I’ve done,” he says. “A lot of my work is experiential. I want people to be able to experience it and touch it. It’s not the traditional fine art gallery where people aren’t allowed to touch the art.”

Some artists, fine art enthusiasts, and curators might be concerned that developing art via coding and pre-written algorithms is a poor substitute for more traditional artistic craftsmanship. But as more artists (and art school programs) work with 3D technology, concerns are lessening. “The art world in general is accepting of change, even if there is some grumbling,” says Brad Jirka, professor of fine arts at MCAD. “Some people worry that you lose the artist’s ‘hand’ in the artwork. But then they see exhibits where the 3D printing is used as a tool—an invisible component, often with analog tools—and the artist’s hand is there.” 

Brad Jirka explaining the process of 3D printing // Photo by Harrison Barden

Christopher Atkins, the curator of exhibitions and public programs at the Minnesota Museum of American Art, feels the art potential with 3D printing goes beyond just technology. “Think of 3D printers the same way you think of charcoal or clay,” he says. “It’s elemental. It’s a tool for artists to use, just as people use clay to form ceramics.”

3D printing only dates back to the 1980s and has strong roots in Minnesota thanks to Eden Prairie–based Stratasys. The printers have greatly improved in quality and precision over time, which has expanded the types of products they’re used to produce. At first the devices were considered industrial in nature and were developed with an aim to create less-expensive manufacturing processes and parts. Eventually a wide variety of industries took to using the technology, from medical device companies to gun enthusiasts developing online designs for guns to be printed at home to NASA installing a 3D printer on the International Space Station for the printing of tools. 

As technicians and scientists were looking into the mechanical possibilities of 3D printing, artists were taking note of the technology’s artistic potential. At MCAD, students began exploring the tool decades before they could execute the actual printing. “The digital part of 3D came to MCAD in the late 1980s; we had an Intro to Digital Imaging class and slipped 3D modeling into that class,” Jirka says. “The first actual 3D printer arrived in 2000.” 

The process of 3D printing art varies depending on the artist but usually includes web-based modeling tools and/or scanning equipment to capture designs. Once captured, the designs are programmed into 3D-printing software to create a printing template. From there, the artist selects the desired materials for and scale of the piece, and ushers it into the final stages of actually printing. 

Related: See the 3D printed art featured on the cover of The Growler’s January issue

Unlike the ease of using a conventional printer, there’s a somewhat steep learning curve to using 3D printers—especially to create. “Even handing off the 3D models to printing machines requires some technical understanding,” says Duluth artist Jonathan Thunder. “You can expect to learn along [with] the process.” 

Challenges aside, 3D printing and modeling has enabled artists to pursue ventures previously unattainable. David Bowen used a drone above Lake Superior to photograph the lake, capture undulations of waves, and carve them into acrylic columns using a CNC router, which is similar to a 3D printer but uses a wood carver. Heather Dewey-Hagborg’s exhibit “Stranger Visions” featured 3D renderings of individuals’ faces developed from DNA she’d extracted from things like hair, chewed gum, and cigarette butts collected on the street and in public spaces. 

Duluth artist Jonathan Thunder with a rough cut of one of his pieces for the “Manifest’o” exhibit // Photo courtesy Jonathan Thunder

Beyond pushing artistic boundaries, 3D printing can also be used to overcome more basic limitations. Files of 3D sculptures can be sent to exhibit locations and printed on-site. After the show, the piece can be destroyed or donated. For the visually impaired, copies of famous sculptures provide an opportunity to engage with a piece that would otherwise be off limits. 

There’s also an archival application to the technology. MCAD’s 3D shop director Don Myhre creates models of buildings scheduled for demolition so they can be kept for posterity. Iranian artist Morehshin Allahyari used 3D printing to create scale models of historical art and monuments destroyed by ISIS. Even the Smithsonian is using the medium: the organization is scanning their entire collection to use for research, education, and, for select items, to allow the public to 3D print and study them at home.

At the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Mia), curator and head of contemporary art Gabriel Ritter sees a world of possibility in 3D printing, and believes acceptance of the technology in art has largely arrived. “It’s an art form already accepted by collectors, especially those who like to have one foot in the future,” he says. “Museums are along for the ride, collectors are on board. It’s the embodiment of the future.”

Not every museum is embracing 3D art with as much aplomb as Mia or The M. Both the Walker Art Center and Weisman Art Museum declined to be interviewed for this article, citing a lack of experience with the medium.

As more artists experiment with 3D printing, more museums are paying attention to the medium // Photo by Harrison Barden

As more artists experiment with 3D printing, more museums are paying attention to the medium // Photo by Harrison Barden

More likely than not, though, the art form will eventually be accepted at museums as nothing out of the ordinary. According to Ritter, the art world is infinitely large enough to embrace tools traditional and new. “Artists will always use the tools available to them, and 3D printing is a tool,” he says. “It’s like when
synthetic paints became available. People didn’t stop using oil. It’s like digital music, or digital books. There will be people who prefer the older techniques. It’s important to understand that 3D printing will not make other things extinct.”

Ritter does have one concern about the new tool, though: the materials being used—namely, plastic. “What is the longevity of the materials used to print? The raw material varies from one printer to another. For a curator, that’s not the concern, as the curator focuses on form and ideas. But anyone involved in conservation sees it as a bigger issue. Will the sculptures brown, fade, melt?”

It’s a fair question, and one that will eventually have to be addressed, but right now artists are still in the
exploration phase of the technology. In Duluth, Thunder was commissioned by the Tweed Museum of Art for a multi-media installation featuring his animation work—as well as his first attempt at 3D printing. “They wanted to bring it a step forward and have me create sculptures from the animation, so we printed out the models used in the animation,” Thunder says. “To have something I’ve created on the computer become a thing I can hold in my hand is almost unbelievable. I’ll look for more opportunities to work with it in 2019.” 

The experience of putting together the exhibit, called “Manifest’o” and running through July 2019, left Thunder in awe. “My own experience in the process is that I was able to bring something from the digital to our world, the real world, something born into the world out of creation. 3D—any single thing you can think of, just hit a button and it comes to life. It blows my mind. And that we can take a technical thing for devices and turn it into fine art—it’s a beautiful thing.” 

Artist Profile: Brad Jirka & Katherine Jones

A piece of art 3D printed by Brad Jirka // Photo by Tj Turner

A piece of art 3D printed by Brad Jirka // Photo by Tj Turner

Before it even hit the printer, Brad Jirka and his wife/collaborative partner Katherine Jones spent upwards of 65 hours on the model for this cover. Between laying out the initial design and recreating it 40 different ways in the 3D printing software formZ, the design duo behind Northfield studio Bohemiawerks eventually came full-circle, landing on a design closest to their original concept. Then came the time to print; Jirka tried three different 3D printers, ranging from a couple hours to a couple days to produce the final model.

But even with tens of hours spent digitally fine-tuning the model, Jirka says such a concept would be near-impossible to do without the precision and flexibility of 3D software. 

“That’s something that you couldn’t even try without the computer. It wouldn’t be realistic,” he says. “By the time you’d figured out how that worked, that’d be months of messing around with a piece of wax. You’d have to do hundreds of iterations.” He points out the option of adding a slight change in the final modeling phase, which would be out of the question if one was working with a physical object. “When you were done, you couldn’t go, ‘What if I twisted it 15 degrees?’ That would be impossible,” he says. “That’s where I think [3D printing] is most effective, is in exploring what the possibilities are.”

As a young student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in the 1970s, Jirka found his passion for sculpture and intermedia, falling in love with the open-ended possibilities (and lack of rules) that the artform promised. Between his years as a pupil and now as a teacher, Jirka’s been involved with MCAD for over four decades. 

Brad Jirka // Photo courtesy MCAD

Brad Jirka // Photo courtesy MCAD

It was also at MCAD where he and Jones met as students—they were married in 1980 and have been partners in life and work ever since. The duo opened up their first studio, St. Elmo’s Inc., in Minneapolis in 1984, then moved to the countryside of Northfield where they started Bohemiawerks in 2001.

St. Elmo’s focused in what Jirka describes as “neon works” and creative lighting, birthing the American School of Neon which ran from 1984–1996. The school, where Jones worked as director and Jirka the lead instructor, was specifically designed for the training of professional “neon benders,” as Jirka puts it. “We trained somewhere around two hundred ‘benders,’ some of whom are still working and training the next generation of neon people,” he says.

Jirka's "Plato Dew Line" // Photo courtesy MCAD

Jirka’s “Plato Dew Line” // Photo courtesy MCAD

Jirka’s work ranges from massive public installations to petite sculptures, all of which utilize materials that are universally accessible but unconventional in the arts world. “I think it’s looking for new things, but not necessarily things that other people aren’t using, because we all use so much stuff.” 

His particular form of art is hard to define, largely because Jirka most enjoys the element of exploration. This explains why he’s so taken with 3D printing, because it is such a young, unwieldy artform that’s just beginning to get its footing in the art world. But he’s willing to admit that the technology isn’t without its issues—namely, the potential for making unlimited copies of his artworks. 

But with his own smaller, toy-like work, Jirka does harbor a dark fantasy. “My dream’s always been to have something turn up at Kmart,” he jokes. “I can go into Kmart and buy it out of a bin.”

As an artist who also enjoys crafts like wood turning and metal working, Jirka does maintain that working with his hands is an unbeatable experience. But he admits the time saved by 3D printing opens up opportunities for more exploration: “There’s something really refreshing about going through that ideation process faster, and actually being able to get product out of it.” 

The challenge, he says, is in creatively mastering the software, rather than letting it master you. “It can both limit the process and it can expand the process—it depends how tenacious you are about exploring what’s possible.”

The cover created by Brad Jirka for the Growler's January issue, and photographed by Tj Turner

The cover created by Brad Jirka for the Growler’s January issue, and photographed by Tj Turner

Frontside 180: JXTA Arts turning vacant lot into a youth-designed art plaza and skatepark

A vacant lot in North Minneapolis is the site of JXTA Arts' youth-designed art plaza and skatepark // Photo by Tj Turner

A vacant lot in North Minneapolis is the site of JXTA Arts’ youth-designed art plaza and skatepark // Photo by Tj Turner

At the corner of Emerson and Broadway in North Minneapolis lies a small vacant lot in an otherwise bustling neighborhood. Though it may look empty and idle, the site is actually in the midst of a radical metamorphosis from a gravel lot into a youth-designed art plaza and skatepark.

Previously the home of youth arts organization Juxtaposition Arts’ business operations since 2004, the decrepit building had to come down this spring—a few years earlier than expected due to falling bricks that resulted in safety citations and mounting fines. Though they’d been planning to tear the building down for over a decade, the premature demolition left a blank canvas for the Northside youth arts organization to fill while they execute a four-year plan to raise $14 million for the new building.

“We didn’t want to leave it just as a blank spot,” says JXTA co-founder Roger Cummings. “We wanted to have it activated—wanted to make it a place for people to have lunch, to have meetings, to show projections and movies, to be a gathering place but also a place to be physically active.”

JXTA Arts founder Roger Cummings // Photo by Tj Turner

JXTA Arts co-founder Roger Cummings // Photo by Tj Turner

With a crowdfunding campaign in the works, Cummings called on City of Skate, a local coalition aiming to install world-class skateparks in the community, to consult on the project. They eagerly jumped on board, as did the West Broadway Coalition.

City of Skate co-founder Witt Siasoco says the decision to partner with a youth-oriented organization like JXTA was a no-brainer. “Skateboarding and creativity go hand in hand, especially because it is a youth culture,” he says. “JXTA comes out of a youth culture, it comes out of graffiti and hip-hop. Roger started off as a graffiti artist, and he knew what it meant to have spaces that were maybe illegal, or maybe it wasn’t signed off with parents. Skateboarding is that same way—I really love those aspects of skateboarding and youth culture, and that’s why the partnership is a perfect fit.”

A skater since the age of 10, Siasoco credits his exposure to skateboarding culture for leading him to his current career as an artist and graphic designer, citing magazines like Thrasher and TransWorld for sparking his obsession with design.

“There’s just so many creative aspects that come out of skateboarding, and it’s such a positive activity, kinesthetically, and also just creatively. It occupies every facet once you go down the rabbit hole,” he says. “You look at this graphic, then you start drawing, then you learn how to screenprint, then you learn how to make your own boards, then you learn how to sell them—there’s just so many things that you get passionate about with it. I know that a lot of these kids will totally grasp onto it if they’re not already involved.”

The youth apprentices involved in the skatepark project predominantly come from JXTA’s environmental design lab; about 10 students have rotated through the project over the last six months. To work in the JXTALab, youth apprentices must first go through the VALT (Visual Art Literacy Training) program. Once they graduate from VALT, they can apply for paid apprenticeships in environmental design, graphic design, screenprinting, public art/murals, contemporary art, and tactical urbanism, a term used to describe temporary, low-cost tactics to improve an urban environment in the interest of its community.

Though the apprentices involved with the project are working with City of Skate, the West Broadway Coalition, and JXTA instructors Niko Kubota-Armin and Sam Ero-Phillips, the students come up with many of the design concepts themselves.

JXTA Arts students review the plans for the new North Minneapolis skatepark and art plaza // Photo by Tj Turner

JXTA Arts students review the plans for the new North Minneapolis skatepark and art plaza // Photo by Tj Turner

“They’re the design talent,” says JXTA instructor Kubota-Armin, who’s also a practicing architect. “[Sam and I are] both in the industry, so we’re familiar with the vocabulary and teaching scale, things like that, but we try to translate it so that, as much as possible, the students are doing the work.”

“Whatever the project is, we try to find the appropriate way to use their talents, because often there’s stuff that they come up with that we never would’ve on our own,” Kubota-Armin adds. “So we try to harness the talent in the most productive way we can.”

The design chosen by the apprentices includes a skate park as well as green space, areas for people to come sit, and a performance space for concerts and events. Artistic elements will include sculpture and apprentice-designed mural panels invoking a “natural” theme, chosen in order to offset the heavy concrete of the skatepark.

The emphasis on the lot becoming a multi-use, public space is crucial to both Cummings and Siasoco. For Cummings, he wants anyone in the neighborhood looking for a place to hang out to feel welcome there. “We can’t just have a full skatepark and that’s it, that’s all it’s programmed to do—nobody can eat lunch there, anything like that. That would be not as powerful.”

For Siasoco, the importance of having the skatepark be open to the public is the driving force behind City of Skate. In fact, the organization first came together five years ago when the Minneapolis Parks and Rec board needed an advisory committee to map out a skatepark activity plan for the city. While he knows of several private skateparks around town—Familia HQ, Third Layer, and unnamed secret spots (you’ll never get him to spill on their whereabouts)—Siasoco’s focus is to work on places where skateboarding first started: public space.

“We need to start thinking about public spaces differently, and I think that’s a byproduct of skateboarding and it’s central to what we’re about,” he says. “Creating good public space is what skaters go to anyway. We don’t want to pave everything in concrete—you want to have trees, you want to have shade, you want to maybe have the ability to have something happening aside from skateboarding in that space. And that’s what this space will be.”

Two JXTA Art students mark the outline of the youth-designed art plaza and skatepark in North Minneapolis // Photo by Tj Turner

Two JXTA Arts apprentices mark the outline of the youth-designed art plaza and skatepark in North Minneapolis // Photo by Tj Turner

The skatepark and plaza project began earlier this year following a massively successful Kickstarter campaign; with funding in place and designs now in the final stages of approval with the city, and JXTA expects to break ground on the plaza next spring.

To put so much work and materials into something that will eventually be torn down (this is the same location where JXTA’s future new building will go, after all) may seem confusing, but its impermanence actually ties directly to the heart of JXTA’s founding mission: to create art that lives and functions in its moment.

“Just doing murals, we know that murals are temporary. There’s not gonna be a mural that stands forever,” says Cummings. “So once you give that to the community, it’s like, that’s it. They can take care of it, and if they want to hold it forever, that would be great. But we go into it knowing that pretty much anything is gonna be temporary.”

JXTA currently occupies four properties on the corner of Emerson and Broadway, including a gallery space, VALT headquarters, space for some of their JXTALabs, and a temporary warehouse space until their new building is up. Since its beginnings in graffiti and mural work, the organization has stayed nimble, constantly seeking creative fixes for ill-designed and underutilized spaces while providing a professional platform for young artists. Whether its an installation in the Guthrie or a skatepark to activate their own lot, JXTA is—at its core—a multi-purpose organization.

“It’s not just being an architect, but being an artist. Not just being a landscape architect, but being a designer,” says Cummings. “Coupling those things together, so that when you’re coming out of here you’re very multi-useful. Our buildings and our plazas and our places have to do that too—they have to serve more than one purpose.”

Both Cummings and Siasoco agree that JXTA students and the community as a whole could benefit from having access to an activity like skateboarding—something that involves little more than a board and the desire to skate. They also hope the temporary plaza will increase the want for additional multi-use skateparks down the road. Siasoco emphasizes that once you’ve got the board, you’re set. “From there, you don’t have to sign up for classes. All you have to do is roll down the street.”

A lesson in drag at Guthrie Theater

From L to R: Cameron Folmar (Tracy), Arturo Soria (Rexy), and Jayson Speters (Casey) prepare for the stage. // Photo by Dan Norman

From L to R: Tracy (Cameron Folmar), Rexy (Arturo Soria), and Casey (Jayson Speters) prepare for the stage. // Photo by Dan Norman

It takes more than putting on a dress and squeezing into nylons and high heels to be a true drag queen. You have to know the history of it, the community of it, the art of it. You have to know who you are and who you’re hoping to become. You have to commit to being part of a larger family—a larger message—heart, soul, mind, and, (certainly) body. Most importantly, you’ve got to have balls—at least figuratively speaking.

That’s the core message of “The Legend of Georgia McBride,” which opened at Guthrie Theater July 20 and plays through August 26. The plot centers around Casey (played by Jayson Speters), a very straight, very boyish Elvis impersonator at a club in small town Florida. He’s enthusiastic and wildly optimistic, spending the last of his and his wife’s rent money on a new sequin jumpsuit and looking only far enough into the future to imagine his rise to fame, even as everyone around him sees that that’s unlikely at best.

His dreams are dashed when the club owner swaps out Casey’s Elvis act for a two-queen drag show. Fate steps in when one of the queens proves too drunk to perform, forcing Casey to step into not only a new role, but a new life.

On its surface, “McBride” is a boisterous, glittering rollick of a time. Confetti covers the theater by the end of the two-hour show, and somewhere along the way the normally staid Guthrie audience transforms into a clapping, dancing, singing crowd of people who may or may not know what exactly they just experienced.

Costume designer Patrick Holt says he “went a little crazy in the holiday montage” part of the show. Featured here are Tracy (Cameron Folmar) and Casey (Jayson Speters) celebrating America to the fullest. // Photo by Dan Norman

If that were all it was—a song and a dance and a peek into drag culture through the eyes of a straight white male—“McBride” would fall flat. Moreover, it would likely nudge past the line of entertaining and become borderline (if not fully) offensive to those for whom drag is not just a side job or creative outlet, but an identity, comfort zone, livelihood, and family.

Fortunately, it’s that side of drag that “McBride” highlights and successfully communicates. “McBride” costume designer and internationally known drag queen Patrick Holt (aka Tempest DuJour) says that the show is less about the fact that Casey is a straight man doing drag, and more about what Casey learns about himself and those around him in the process. “Sexuality doesn’t matter to me; it’s the commitment to the art,” Holt says. “You need to know who came before you and why, and show me you’re willing to commit to this art form. […] You need to find your voice and your brand.”

Holt has been doing drag seriously for about 12 years, including a brief stint on season seven of “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” He’s the head of the costume design department at the University of Arizona’s School of Theatre, Film & Television and also freelances as a costume designer and performs as Tempest DuJour whenever and wherever possible.

While Holt started doing drag for reasons more catty than cultural—“I was the guy in the back of the show saying, ‘I could do better than that,’” he laughs—eventually he discovered something much more impactful within the artform. “There’s a culture to drag; it’s not just putting on a dress. There’s a place for everyone in drag,” he says. “That’s one of the great things about it: drag is a family—it offers family. It also offers performance, yeah, and it’s nice to have people applaud for you, but more importantly it’s a place to feel safe and not judged. Within the drag community, there’s a lot of discussion about what is legitimate or not. That’s bullshit. It’s for everyone.”

Well, almost everyone: “There’s a line in the play that I love,” Holt says. “It’s when Rexy [one of the drag queens] says, ‘Drag’s a lot of things, but it’s not for sissies.’”

“McBride” director and Guthrie Theater associate artistic director Jeffrey Meanza agrees. “You have to be honest in drag. You’re exposing a lot of yourself; it’s incredibly vulnerable,” he says. And that—discovering one’s true self—is the key to the whole show. “The ultimate conflict for Casey, beyond understanding queer history and how drag fits into the lineage of gay history and its deeply political nature, is when his wife Jo says to him, ‘You need to know who you are to yourself, your wife, and your friends,’” Meanza explains.

At one point late in the show, Rexy lays into Casey for thinking of drag as little more than something akin to a role in a musical, explaining with no lack of directness that drag was—and is—her saving grace as a gay boy growing up in a conservative small town. “That’s me,” Rexy says at the end of her speech. “Who the fuck are you?”

Director Jeffrey Meanza says the creative team edited the script to add a number for Rexy (played by Arturo Soria). “I was adamant that Rexy have that moment. It is so important for understanding who Rexy is.” // Photo by Dan Norman

Meanza did drag for six months when he was in his 20s, playing Cleopatra in “Cleopatra! The Musical.” While Meanza had done plenty of musical theater before that, he says drag was a completely different experience. “I wasn’t a very good drag queen,” he admits. “But it was good exposure to camp and camp performance, and to understanding my body in a different way. As a performer who had done musical theater but not drag, I became fascinated with the art form itself and the political nature of it.”

As for what made his role as drag-queen Cleopatra so different from other roles, Meanza says it was a combination of things. “The performative quality required for drag is so heightened. You’re figuring out who your drag persona is within the context of a play—there were a lot of moments within the piece where I had to make a choice about: ‘Who is this Cleopatra drag queen? What does it mean? What is that persona?’ It was just different than working on something more traditional within a set of circumstances in a play.”

This experience became one of many tools Meanza used to cast “McBride” and help each of the actors find his drag identity. Holt was even more of a teacher to the cast, aiding them in everything from how to “put on their faces” to how to walk in heels, and answering any and all questions they had along the way. “I was a mentor and a costume designer; I was really lucky,” Holt says. “The first time I spoke with the cast, there were a lot of questions about drag and my experience. There are so many levels of drag and styles, and this show isn’t Vegas or Los Angeles drag; it’s small town Florida drag. I helped figure out what the limits and parameters of that were to make it feel authentic.”

By the time rehearsals wrapped and the show opened, the cast had bonded deeply over their shared deep-dives into the world of drag. “The cast has messaged me and written me lovely letters about how much they’ve been changed by the whole thing,” Holt says. “That’s what makes this worthwhile. It’s amazing. It’s the whole family thing that drag offers—that theater offers.”

Being part of that family extends beyond the stage and into the audience, too, as they go with Casey on his journey from being a one-dimensional Elvis impersonator to a thoughtful, genuine, empathetic man who now has two separate but deeply connected identities. As Meanza puts it, “The play transcends the trappings of, ‘Oh, drag is just a bunch of gay people,’ to revealing to the audience that it’s all about being true to who you are.”

Through Casey, we as the audience are invited to broaden our understanding not only of what drag is, but what it represents. Acceptance, respect, inclusivity, identity: these are not topics easily discussed, let alone embodied and empathetically offered to our fellow human. And while a show like “McBride” doesn’t solve all the issues of bigotry and close-mindedness that plague society, it at least opens the door to a new perspective and a deeper conversation. Whether audience members choose to sit back and enjoy the applaudable performances and feel-good vibes of the two-hour show or go a step further and allow the messages to strike a more vulnerable chord is up to them. The invitation is there for the accepting.

Hive Minds: How bees are inspiring food purveyors, artists, and policy wonks

Honeybees on Aster flowers // Photo courtesy Ames Farm

A honey bee on Aster flowers // Photo courtesy Ames Farm

Rawest Form of Honey Making a Comb-Back

From peanut butter toast for breakfast to a hot toddy for breakf… a nightcap, a drizzle of honey makes everything better. And while local honey farmers have built a cottage industry around that spoonful of sugar, one farm is harvesting something a little less refined.

Ames Farms is an eight-acre honey farm on the northwest corner of Oak Lake, just outside of Watertown, Minnesota. They are best known for their single-source honey, but this year’s harvest came with an added bonus. “We have had an amazing year for honeycomb,” says Sarah Mogilevsky, general manager of Ames Farms, “which does not always happen.”

Raw honeycomb is exactly what it sounds like: waxy, porous comb cut right from the hive, dripping with unprocessed honey. While it may be new to some consumers, it’s actually a bit of a throwback. Before modern extraction processes became streamlined, apiarists would pull, cut, and package raw honeycomb to sell. Ames Farms is reaching back to that time and bringing it into present-day spotlight.

A beekeeper checks a frame for honey at Ames Farm // Photo courtesy Ames Farm

A beekeeper checks a frame for honey at Ames Farm, near Watertown, Minnesota // Photo courtesy Ames Farm

So how exactly do you consume raw honeycomb? You just eat it, man.

“My favorite,”Mogilevsky says, “is to eat the honeycomb until all that is left is the wax, and [then] chew it like gum.” She adds that it’s great on ice cream—which sounds about as delightful as it gets.

Turns out, plenty of other people—and craft food, beer, and spirit establishments—think so, too. Ames Farms’ raw honeycomb has appeared all over the Twin Cities. It currently stars on cheese plates at Surly Beer Hall and Restaurant Alma in Minneapolis, as well as on the lunch and dinner menus of Prairie Kitchen & Bar at the Hyatt Regency Minneapolis.

Beyond commercial establishments, Ames Farms also makes regular appearances at the Minneapolis and Mill City Farmers’ Markets, plus a swarm of coops, grocery stores, and shops in Minnesota, Wisconsin, and around the country.

Local Beekeepers Giving Pollinators a Big Leg Up

Chiara Bolton checks a frame of one of The Solar Honey Company's boxes at a Connexus Energy solar array // Photo by Matthew Gorrie

Chiara Bolton checks a frame of one of The Solar Honey Company’s boxes at a Connexus Energy solar array // Photo by Matthew Gorrie

Solar energy is widely considered to be the gold standard of renewable energy. Unfortunately, many of these solar farms take away valuable real estate from pollinators.

Instead of the grass that would naturally grow there, “cheap turf or gravel is placed under the panels,” says Chiara and Travis Bolton, professional beekeepers and owners of Bolton Bees and the Solar Honey Company.

In an effort to change that, the Boltons are working to convince big solar developers to ditch the turf and gravel and plant a mix of deep-rooted native plants and flowers instead—aka, the ideal climate for bees, butterflies, birds, and other pollinators—a practice which has been done for years in places like the U.K. and Germany.

Most solar developers, it turns out, don’t need much convincing. In addition to being a better use of the land and enriching the soil, the natural approach also requires much less maintenance. And the benefit to bees is immense. “One acre of pollinator-friendly habitat is equivalent to 600 6-by-12-foot gardens,” Chiara says. “And these solar farms are usually 30 to 40 acres.”

While this may seem like a no-brainer, at a recent renewable energy conference in Santa Clara, California, the Boltons, St. Paul–based Fresh Energy, and staff from The Ray, were the only ones promoting the idea. The Boltons, Fresh Energy, and several pollinator advocacy groups have since been in talks with developers across the country to gain more traction in better integrating the complementary fields of pollinator-friendly habitat and solar energy.

Some of the trademarked SolarHoney products the Solar Honey Company offers // Photo by Matthew Gorrie

Some of the trademarked SolarHoney products made by the Solar Honey Company // Photo by Matthew Gorrie

To try the Bolton’s trademarked SolarHoney—and support their mission—you can buy their products from their website or swing by Corazon (Minneapolis and St. Paul locations) or the Seasoned Specialty Food Market in St. Paul.

Also keep an eye out for 56 Brewing’s limited-release Solarama Crush IPA. The 6.1 percent ABV IPA features a bouquet of Zeus, Citra, Loral, and Enigma hops along with some specialty grains and a hefty helping of SolarHoney—over half an ounce per pint. While they ran out quickly after its debut on May 18, a limited number of Crowlers may still be available at select Whole Foods and liquor store locations around town, including Surdyk’s. 56 Brewing is already planning another run of the beer for next spring.

Turning a Buzz into a Tune

Rae Howell holds a microphone close to a beehive, recording the sounds the bees make as they swarm around the hive // Photo courtesy Rae Howell

Rae Howell holds a microphone close to a beehive, recording the sounds the bees make as they swarm around the hive // Photo courtesy Rae Howell

 Most people don’t associate the sound of buzzing bees with positive or calming emotions. But Australian musician and composer Rae Howell hears things differently, going so far as to feature Minnesota’s finest pollinators in her latest project.

In 2014, Rae was working on a couple solo albums in Minnesota when she became enchanted with the sound of bees buzzing around her recording engineer’s backyard. She turned this fascination into action and reached out to the University of Minnesota’s Bee Research Lab to help her capture the sound and identify the frequency of bees’ wings. The result was an experimental orchestra project called “Bee-Sharp.”

During field research, Rae and the researchers discovered that the bees buzzed at a frequency almost equivalent to the note of C (or B sharp…get it?). Rae used this discovery to create an entire musical experience: a 20-minute orchestration featuring stringed instruments mimicking the sound of bees, plus an accompanying mini-documentary and illustrated series of graphic scores.

In addition to collaborating with the University of Minnesota and performing at the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board’s Pollinator Party last summer, Rae chose Minneapolis’ own Laurels String Quartet to workshop, record, and debut “Bee-Sharp.”

“I heard a couple of creative friends in Minnesota had worked with them before,” Rae explains when asked how she got connected with the quartet. “And they seemed like a great fit—curious and keen to be involved.”

The documentary short premiered at the MSP Film Festival in Minneapolis in April, and was screened June 1 at the Duluth Superior Film Festival. It will be shown again on August 11 at the Square Lake Film & Music Festival.

Correction: Boltons Bees was not the only attendee at the Santa Clara conference discussing building pollinator habitat in solar gardens. Fresh Energy and The Ray also spoke on the topic. 

The Soap Factory 2.0: Renovation to add more artist space and restaurant to Minneapolis art venue

Renovations to The Soap Factory will begin late September // Photo via The Soap Factory's Facebook

Renovations to The Soap Factory will begin late September // Photo via The Soap Factory’s Facebook

A daring, innovative Minneapolis art space is soon to rejuvenate its artistic game.

Starting late September, The Soap Factory will update its 130-year-old industrial building with a $6.2 million dollar building improvement project. The renovation of the 52,000-square-foot space, once home to the National Purity Soap Factory, includes a top-to-bottom upgrade—the new Soap Factory will offer an expanded local, national, and international artist residency program and exhibition space, as well as additional working studios for artists. Furthermore, the first floor of the riverfront warehouse will house a new restaurant.

“We are thrilled about the opportunities this expansion brings,” said Bill Mague, executive director for The Soap Factory, in the press release. “The renovation will enable us to provide critical new capacity in our local art community, offering both affordable working space for local artists and multiple residency programs. The ethos that is so intrinsic to ‘The Soap’ will be alive and well in the renovated space as improvements are meant to highlight and leverage the unique, existing historic fabric for the long-term.”

The Soap Factory was founded in 1989 by a small group of artists as one of the first venues in the Twin Cities devoted to emerging visual art, according to the website. Originally called No Name Gallery, then No Name Exhibitions, the nonprofit organization has grown to exhibit the works of over 100 artists and draw 20,000 visitors every year. In the past decade, The Soap Factory has become known for its annual halloween experience, The Haunted Basement, which takes the haunted house to new, visceral levels. With the renovations at The Soap Factory, it was announced that The Haunted Basement will spin off into an independent project and be brought to different locations.

The Soap Factory plans to reopen in April 2018. While the building is undergoing renovations, they are partnering with artists to present “Rethinking Public Spaces,” a series of eleven artist projects that enliven underutilized spaces throughout Minnesota, rethink public space, and consider what it means to “place-make” through a contemporary, celebratory, and critical lens, according to The Soap Factory’s website. “Rethinking Public Spaces” will take place around the exterior of The Soap Factory, across the Minneapolis–St. Paul Metro, and throughout the state, in towns including Rochester, Brainerd, and Cambridge.

The Dark Arts: Graffiti walks the line between petty vandalism and complex art form

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Is graffiti strictly vandalism? Or is there some hidden merit? // Photo by Dan Branovan

Provocative bursts of bold colors. Wild, distorted lettering. An urban canvas full of lines, shape, and form, soon to be wiped away—reconditioned to a beige, gray, or whitewashed surface. It’s the nature of the art—atypical, public, transient. It’s graffiti.

But is it art? Building an identity in Philadelphia in the late 1960s, graffiti truly exploded when it found its way to New York City in the ‘70s and then penetrated the culture of hip-hop in the ‘80s. The medium was also adopted by gangs across the country as a way to mark their turf, most notably embraced in Los Angeles. Throughout time and the upsurge of monikers on sprawling city walls, bridges, billboards, and trains, graffiti has spawned polarizing reactions. Thoughts on its use and proliferation have run up against considerations of style and application of the law. Is it strictly vandalism? Or is there some hidden merit?

“People are going to have one opinion or another,” graffiti artist and art instructor Peyton Scott Russell says. “You can see it as beautiful. We have all these bland surfaces. With graffiti, it’s communication as individuals in unorthodox ways that tell stories and may inspire people to think about life. Or to think how did that get up there? It engages the artist to create, but also engages thoughts in the viewer. Now you’re in dialogue. That’s the argument and beauty of it.”

Part of the argument begins with what it’s called in the first place—namely, the distinction between “graffiti” versus “street art.”

Graffiti writers are focused on letter structure—this is where you find “tags,” scrawling one’s name or pseudo-name as many times and places as possible, in the hopes of being seen.

Graffiti in Duluth, Minnesota // Photo by Dan Branovan

“As humans, we live, we exist, and we have a need to be recognized. We all like to be seen in some way, graffiti writers included.” Peyton says. “The biggest general consensus is ‘how famous can I get this name?’”

Graffiti artists take “writing” one step further, using additional art—murals, themes, and backgrounds—to support the creative typography.

On the other hand, street art is graffiti’s more often tolerated cousin. It merges art and commentary using posters, images, stickers, stencils, spray paint, and other media. The prime example of the form is Banksy, the anonymous England-based artist, with his distinctive stenciling technique and socio-politics. Locally, an artist calling himself Mows has generated attention and controversy by installing tiny doorways on buildings and alleys. Whereas graffiti draws power from a persona, street art usually reflects a broader message. It makes public the gallery but claims kinship with gallery art.

Graffiti artists take “writing” one step further, using additional art—murals, themes, and backgrounds // Photo by Dan Branovan

Regardless of the artist’s intention, done without permission it is also vandalism in the eyes of of the law. In 2016, 8,059 graffiti cases were reported in Minneapolis, and the Graffiti Abatement and Enforcement program, spent a whopping $539,420 on graffiti prevention, removal, and enforcement last year alone. City of Minneapolis’ Clean City Coordinator Michelle Howard says that graffiti lowers neighborhood appeal, decreases property values, drives away prospective homebuyers, and  attracts criminal activity.

“Worst of all,” she says, “gang members use graffiti to promote themselves. Covering up this graffiti takes away this gang tool and improves the overall look of neighborhoods. […] Aerosol or other artwork and graffiti are not one in the same. Artwork is done with permission. Graffiti is done without permission.”

Next page: Duluth’s “Graffiti Graveyard”

For Art’s Sake: What the average Minnesotan stands to lose if NEA funding is cut

The Children’s Theater Company uses funding from the National Endowment for the Arts to put on productions like the recent “Dr. Seuss’s The Sneetches The Musical” // Photo by Dan Norman

The budget battles over federal funding for cultural programs and organizations have tangible, pressing implications for the cultural economy and community access to the arts in Minnesota.

If your kids got to see “The Sneetches” at the Children’s Theatre through a field trip at school, you’ve reaped the benefits of public funding for arts and culture. If you’ve ever taken in a show at Minnesota Opera or the Guthrie on date night, or participated in a special reading program at your local library, you’re also a beneficiary. And when your children come home from school, excited about working with a visiting artist in the classroom, or inspired by a hands-on session with a composer in their middle school’s orchestra practice, it’s likely that public dollars are behind the programs improving your child’s access to high-quality arts education.

On May 1, the United States Congress acted to ensure the current fiscal year’s budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and other threatened federal agencies will remain intact. But President Trump’s administration still has a proposal to cut federal funding for arts and culture programs, on which the House and Senate are set to vote later this fall. The Trump administration’s proposed budget would eliminate the NEA entirely by fiscal year 2018, along with shuttering the National Endowment for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

But what would that mean for Minnesotans, really?

Minnesota’s Culture Economy by the Numbers

Franconia Sculpture Park receives funding from the NEA // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Despite its relatively tiny draw on the federal budget—just $148 million out of the total $4 trillion budget annually—the National Endowment for the Arts (and the organizations, artists, creative workers, and projects that depend on it) is a cornerstone of the cultural economy of the state. Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, cites some key numbers from the recently released 2017 Creative Minnesota study. “There are 104,000 artists and creative workers in Minnesota,” Smith says. “Artists, creative workers, nonprofit arts and culture organizations, and their audiences amount to an economic impact in the state of over $2 billion each year.”

From the NEA, in particular, Minnesota received $5.3 million in 2016—“more NEA dollars per capita than any of our neighboring states,” Smith says. Minnesota arts organizations received 73 direct grants from the NEA last year, supporting projects in every congressional district. Beyond those direct grants, this year the Minnesota State Arts Board also received a $770,000 state partnership grant from the NEA—most of which was, in turn, re-granted to Minnesota artists and artist-led projects.

Smith notes that 60 percent of Minnesota’s NEA funding goes to programs serving low-income communities. “This is not about art for the elite,” she says. “This is about arts access. For 100 years, we’ve made access to arts and culture an important civic goal. This is about who we are, what we value—our very identity as a state.”

Beyond the cultural implications, cutting the NEA will have undoubtedly have workforce impacts in the state. “You can’t take $5.3 million out of an ecosystem and not see that have an effect,” Smith says. “Minnesota foundations don’t have the capacity to backfill federal funding. It’s the same conversation we’ve had around the importance of the Legacy Fund to the state’s arts and culture economy. Philanthropy just can’t fill that gap.”

Paul R. Coate, a theater artist and member of the Twin Cities Actors’ Equity Association, echoes that sentiment. During a speech at Mixed Blood Theatre on April 24 discussing proposed cuts to federal funding for the arts, Coate said: “When it comes to the NEA, I realize now how much skin-in-the-game I really have. The NEA has enabled me to work in my field, so I can feed my kids. The piece I just worked on, Dr. Seuss’s ‘The Sneetches’ at Children’s Theatre Company, was partially funded by a grant from the NEA. And I bet I can draw a straight line from the National Endowment for the Arts to a portion of the paychecks of every artist in this room.”

Should the NEA and other cultural agencies hit the chopping block, ordinary Minnesotans will feel the pinch in their quality of life, too. Most of the state’s big arts and culture players are supported with NEA dollars: organizations like the Walker Art Center, Guthrie, Ordway, Children’s Theatre, and Minnesota Orchestra. “A Prairie Home Companion” even got its start thanks to an NEA grant. The NEA’s Blue Star Museum program gives active members of the military and their families free admission to 24 museums throughout the state. Through the Minneapolis-based organization Arts Midwest, which serves a nine-state region including Minnesota, the NEA supports the national community reading initiative, “The Big Read,” as well as “Shakespeare in American Communities.” That program has brought students from 195 middle and high school classrooms in 54 counties around the state into theaters for productions of classic Shakespeare plays.

Minnesota’s literary scene is another huge beneficiary of NEA support: Milkweed Editions, Graywolf, and Coffee House Press, all luminaries in the publishing industry, have received substantial grants from the agency. Chris Fischbach, publisher of Coffee House Press, says that while NEA grants comprise about five percent of his business’ annual budget, “it’s something I’m very concerned about, both as a citizen and as leader of an arts nonprofit.” He goes on to explain, “If we lost that money for book projects, we’d have to replace it—which means some of our other programming, education, and community arts work would suffer. We’d have to focus on work more directly connected to our earned income streams.”

The Cedar Cultural Center’s Global Roots Festival // Photo by John Behm

Do you listen to live music? The Hot Summer Jazz Festival, Cantus, American Composers Forum, the Lake Area Music Festival in Brainerd, and Minnesota Opera are just a few of the state’s recent NEA grantees. Adrienne Dorn, executive director of the Cedar Cultural Center, says, “NEA Art Works grants have funded the Cedar’s annual Global Roots Festival for seven years now—that’s 61 global artists from over 27 countries that we’ve been able to bring to Minnesota audiences.” She goes on to note, “the festival has been free for most of its existence, and that’s also largely thanks to NEA support.”

It’s not only community art, music in the park, good books, live theater, and museum exhibitions that may disappear from Minnesota under the proposed cuts. Access to our state’s creative culture and programming, particularly in rural areas, low-income communities, and arts education, would certainly be diminished as well.

John Hock, artistic director and CEO of Franconia Sculpture Park near Taylors Falls, draws a direct line from NEA support to what the park is able to offer its rural east central Minnesota community. Hock says, “The NEA supports our fellowship program. It’s not the only funder we count on, but it’s a pivotal one.” Hock says, “For every NEA dollar we get, we match it with five dollars from other funders to make our artist residency fellowship program at Franconia possible. And there’s a trickle-down effect in our arts education program and what we can offer, both in local schools and in the park.”

Related post – Craft Culture: Franconia Sculpture Park

He’s blunt: “A third of our fellowships are directly funded through NEA money. So, if it were to go away, we’d have to reduce our artists’ support by a third, which isn’t good.” He says, “Arts organizations like ours—we’ll survive, but we’ll all be cutting back. It comes down to the question: How do we not just survive, but stay innovative?”

Matthew Fluharty, co-founder and director of the Winona-based outfit and NEA grantee, Art of the Rural, agrees. In addition to its work creating platforms for young, rural creatives and resources for community development, the organization just opened a brick-and-mortar space in Winona, called Outpost, which will host exhibitions and programs that will “continue to put rural people on the cultural map.” He says, “If the NEA goes away, we don’t just lose funds. It’s a spiritual blow to folks who already feel they’re working without recognition, wondering where support is going to come from in the next six months.”

“Conservatively speaking,” Fluharty says, “rural Americans account for 18 percent of the nation’s population but receive less than six percent of the philanthropy.” He calls it a “criminally inequitable” distribution of resources, and says the NEA has “excelled in meeting rural arts and culture where they are—learning what kinds of projects make the most sense for specific regions, and responding to those needs accordingly.”

Gülgün Kayim (director of arts, culture, and the creative economy for the City of Minneapolis) spoke up at the Star Tribune’s April 24 “Arts in the Crossfire” forum on public funding for the arts. Kayim said, “research by the City of Minneapolis demonstrates the market can’t support the arts in an equitable way. Data provided by the NEA also indicates that, across the country, philanthropic funds are not evenly distributed among people of color and artists of color.” She added: “Government needs to step in where the market has failed […] and intervene on behalf of equity.”

Speaking at the same Star Tribune-hosted discussion, U.S. Representative Betty McCollum pointed to the significance of federal funding in schools and youth-oriented programs: “Arts education teaches young people to think creatively, to work effectively with others, to bring fresh ways of thinking to STEM disciplines like engineering and math. The NEA has been critical to funding those kinds of programs, and you just can’t put a price tag on that.”

Laura Zabel, executive director of Springboard for the Arts, put it simply: “This is ultimately about engagement with our own culture, an expression of who we are and what we value.”

Water is Life: Northern Spark builds on last year’s theme with an art festival along the Green Line

Dandelion, Against the Grain, and Ice Fall— Feel The Change, Northern Spark 2016 // Photo by Dusty Hoskovec

Water is Life” became the rallying cry of the water protectors trying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, and now those words flow between St. Paul and Minneapolis via the Green Line train.

Andrea Carlson’s colorful train-wrap design, which reads “Mni Wiconi” (water is life, in Dakota) on one side and “Nibi gaa-bimaaji’iwemagak” (the water that gives life, in Ojibwe) on the other, first hit the tracks on March 3, and will act as a central piece in this year’s Northern Spark Festival, which takes place along the transit line from dusk until dawn on the night of June 10.

The art festival’s new route along the Green Line will highlight different communities in Minneapolis and St. Paul through partnerships with community organizations and nonprofits doing work around social justice and the environment. It’s all part of a two-year theme, begun in 2016, which emphasizes climate change and the ways communities can work together for a healthier Earth.

When Carlson first talked to Steve Dietz, who runs Northern, the organization responsible for the Northern Spark Festival, he told her that the festival didn’t want to make the issue of climate change political. That’s when she thought of the phrase “Water is Life.” “That seems like it should be political, but it’s not,” she says. “I just want to get that language seen.”

Accompanying the text on the train are a water panther and thunderbird, and the colors Carlson uses bear significance in Objiwe culture. “It’s blue on one side and red on the other,” Carlson says. “When those two colors come together [it means] strength and healing.”

Since its first year in 2011, Northern Spark has often featured performances, installations, or projections that have touched on issues of water, energy, and the environment. The festival has taken care about where it takes place, centering activities around bike paths and public transportation, as well as the Mississippi River.

MINN_LAB, Weather Report, Mill Ruins Park, Northern Spark 2016// Photo by Dusty Hoskovec

Last year’s projects ranged from coral reefs made from recycled materials to popsicles made from the “polluted water” of a dystopian Minnesota futurescape. There was even a portable soil lab where people could test soil from their backyards for heavy metals. As in past years, there were large projections and epic performances, showing that art can be as spectacular and stunning as it is beautiful.

The benefit of having a two-year investigation about climate change means Northern Spark gets to build on last year’s work. “What we learned was that there was a huge amount of interest in both the topic and the idea of bringing something more topical to the Northern Spark Festival,” says Dietz. This year, there’ll be an even greater focus on what people can do to make a difference, whether that means calling senators and representatives, recycling more, or biking. “It is really about a cultural shift,” Dietz says. “Art is not just a fancy way to talk about climate change, but it is in itself an action.”

Northern Spark will have a more intimate feel this year, due to its location. Unlike past years where huge projections, like on the side of the grain silos along the Mississippi River, created a sense of spectacle, this year’s festival takes place in new places like Little Mekong and the Rondo neighborhood, giving visitors a sense of the unique cultural aspects each place. In addition, there will be sites in Lowertown, around the Weisman Art Museum, at the West Bank station, and around U.S. Bank Stadium.

Futures North, Phase Change, West River Parkway, Northern Spark 2016 // Photo by Dusty Hoskovec

This year’s festival will feature nearly 70 projects spread across seven different locations, as opposed to the 35 projects at Mill City last year. The setup is advantageous because “it will be super easy to get on the light rail to get to a different venue,” Dietz says. Free all-night passes for the Light Rail will be available to download and should help alleviate concerns around parking.

“We’re bringing people into the heart of Rondo and Little Mekong who may not have been there before,” Dietz says. “That’s part of the goal of the Green Line and of the festival.”

Northern Spark is partnering with Twin Cities LISC as well as different community development organizations and business associations from each of the neighborhoods. For example, in the Little Mekong area, the Asian Economic Development Association has helped to organize activities in conjunction with their popular “Little Mekong Night Market,” which takes place over two days and features Asian culinary delights, crafts, and cultural activities.

Playwright Katie Ka Vang’s interactive performance will take place in the Little Mekong area, which she’s creating in collaboration with textile artist Khamphian Vang and digital artist Christina Vang.

Cedarside 2016 Artists with Muna Ahmed, Blessing the Boats, Mill Ruins Park, Northern Spark 2016 // Photo by Dusty Hoskovec

Vang says the piece was inspired by a character in a play she wrote in graduate school. “The character was a river that I didn’t understand yet then,” Vang says. When the opportunity came up to participate in Northern Spark, she decided she wanted to explore her own relationship with water, as a person who has experienced cancer and other serious medical problems. “I’ve had so many medical things where they tell me I need to drink water to flush out everything in my system,” she says.

The DAPL pipeline also got her thinking about water as a citizen, and about who has access to water, and who has authority over water. “Do we get a say in how water is being taken care of?” she says.

Vang says her piece, which will be a durational performance installation with projections, will include gestures around nurturing, authority, and agency, investigating ways communities take care of and protect bodies of water. The performers will interact with the textile and digital art created by her visual art collaborators.

Besides the neighborhood partners, Northern Spark has also partnered with nonprofits that have tackled issues of energy, environmental justice, and climate change. For example, Northern Spark paired Tony Williams, otherwise known as rapper Tony the Scribe, with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) on a piece that takes on the issue of air pollution within the Twin Cities.

Joshua McGarvey and Heckadecimal, Ice Fall—Feel The Change, Mill Ruins Park and Gold Medal Silos, Northern Spark 2016; MINN_LAB, Weather Report, Mill Ruins Park, Northern Spark 2016 // Photo by Max Haynes

“When they were talking about different environmental issues that they wanted to touch on at Northern Spark and particularly with the racial justice analysis, one of the things that came immediately to mind was thinking about that air pollution,” Williams says. 55411 is among the zip codes with the highest asthma hospitalization rates in the entire state, Williams says, and that’s not an accident. “That’s where people are able to leverage political power against marginalized folks,” he asserts.

His piece will feature dancers inside a large glass tank, where they’ll move to a soundscape he put together while the tank slowly fills up with “smog.” As time passes, the dancers will slowly disappear. “I want people to understand that environmental justice isn’t just something that happens in the ozone layer or in Antarctica, but happens in communities around us every day,” Williams says.

Steve Dietz says pairing art and environmental activism is a natural fit. “There’s always been a fight for art being critical in society,” Dietz says. By twinning art with environmental justice, “it makes clear the central role of both issues: the importance of the environment and the importance of our efforts around the environment.”

Minnesota Marine Art Museum unveils three notable acquisitions

Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, Minnesota // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Minnesota Marine Art Museum in Winona, Minnesota // Photo by Aaron Davidson

Minnesota Marine Art Museum, located along the Mississippi River in Winona, Minnesota, added to its already surprising collection of water-inspired art from world-renowned artists this weekend.

Three paintings were unveiled to a room full of museum members and donors, Winona Daily News reports. The first painting was “Spring on the Hori River Overlooking Steckborn” (1946) by Otto Dix, a German painter declared a “degenerate artist” by the Nazis. Dix was stripped of his professorship and spent the war years painting inoffensive landscapes, like “Spring on the Hori River,” in the countryside.

The second painting was “Arles, the Arena before the Rhone II” (1960) by Pablo Picasso. It was the final in a series of five paintings Picasso did of the bullfighting arena, and was completed late in the painter’s life.

The third painting revealed was “White-Headed Eagle” (1828) by American ornithologist, naturalist and painter John James Audubon. According to MMAM, Audubon completed a few oil paintings as a way to promote subscriptions to his book, “The Birds of America,” and as such “White-Headed Eagle” is rare addition to the museum’s collection.

The new paintings add to the buzz the Minnesota Marine Art Museum has garnered recently from publications including the Wall Street Journal and The Growler.

[H/T Winona Daily News]

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Your guide to all the public art

Mosaic of the Americas, in South Minneapolis, is one of dozens of public artworks included on Start Seeing Arts' interactive map // Photo by MN Original

Mosaic of the Americas, in South Minneapolis, is one of dozens of public artworks included on Start Seeing Arts’ interactive map // Photo by MN Original

Ever wonder where you can go to see art around the Twin Cities, besides in a museum?

Start Seeing Art has the answer for you.

The website has made a Google map that outlines every public art installation (murals, sculpture, mosaic, etc.) around the Twin Cities, including information about each piece.

Now that the weather is finally starting to cooperate (fingers crossed), it’s the perfect time to hop in the car and take a little art-trip.

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Famed Swedish chef brings photo exhibit to the American Swedish Institute


Fjord, Faroe Islands // Magnus Nilsson, April 2013

Magnus Nilsson, the acclaimed chef of Faviken Magasinet restaurant in Sweden who is also an accomplished photographer and cookbook author, is headed to Minneapolis.

The American Swedish Institute announced today via press release that Nilsson will be displaying his traveling exhibit, “Nordic: A Photographic Essay of Landscapes, Food and People,” at the ASI June 2 to August 14, and in town himself June 1 to June 4 to introduce the work.

The exhibition highlights original, place-based photographs that Nilsson captured of the people he met and the restaurants, private kitchens, and remote landscapes he explored during three years researching his 2015 cookbook “The Nordic Cookbook.”

While seeking an expanded definition of today’s Nordic cuisine, Nilsson gathered more than 700 indigenous recipes from home cooks throughout Sweden, Denmark, The Faroe Islands, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, and Norway, and shot some 8,000 photographs.

The exhibition and an accompanying catalog showcase selected images and invite viewers to discover food as a universal touchpoint sharing heritage across boundaries and time.

A parallel display at ASI will show photographs by Minnesota-based photographer Cameron Wittig, taken of Nilsson’s Fäviken restaurant, kitchen, and the workings of a chef, annotated in essays by Swedish journalist Po Tidholm.

Nilsson will launch the “Nordic” exhibition with a full schedule at ASI, including the Craft-Sprit Tasting Party and Exhibition Preview, a Nordic Heirloom Recipe Exchange, a Night at the Chef’s Table courtyard feast, and a Nilsson book signing.

Tickets go on sale to the public Friday, April 8. Visit for more information.

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Surly Brewing’s 2016 featured artist contest closes February 17

Surly Featured Artist Contest

Surly Featured Artist Contest

Are you an artist? Do you love beer? Then Surly Brewing has the job for you.

Surly is choosing a new local artist to work with in 2016 as a part of their annual featured artist contest. The contest has been open since February 5 and still accepting applications until February 17.

The chosen artist will have the chance to create the artwork for SurlyFest 2016, Darkness 2016, and Surly’s 11th anniversary beer in 2017. The art will be featured on bottles, posters, and merchandise. The new artist will join an impressive list of artists who have created posters and labels for Surly past beers, including Brandon Holt, Erica Williams, Josh “Jawsh” Lemke, Brent Schoonover, Michael Berglund, Aesthetic Apparatus, DWITT, Nic Skrade, and Adam Turman.

From Surly’s website:

Think you’ve got what it takes? We’re not asking you to make something for free, just so it’s clear. This is a paid gig (with free beer). So we need to see portfolios folks, and we’re looking for you to show us how Surly you are—why would your art represent Surly Nation? How is what you do connected to our beer? […] If you are interested, like Surly beer, and don’t suck at art, send some info about yourself, your connection with Surly and examples of your previous work (links to your portfolio, etc.) to [email protected] by Wednesday, February 17. We’ll check out your stuff, discuss with previous Surly artists and either let you know you’re a finalist, or crush your hopes with rejection. If you sent artwork last year, you can send it again.

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Heat things up at Franconia Sculpture Park this Valentine’s Day weekend

Franconia artists, all experienced metal casters, pour molten iron into molds made by community members // Photo courtesy Franconia Sculpture Park

Franconia artists, all experienced metal casters, pour molten iron into molds made by community members // Photo courtesy Franconia Sculpture Park

If you’re looking for something to do other than make googly eyes at your sweetie over a fancy dinner this weekend, read on.

Franconia Sculpture Park‘s Valentine’s Day Hot Iron Pour is a unique, fun way to spend the day with the love of your life (or the person you’re hoping to be the love of your life) and see art in the making.

Taking place from 12pm to 5pm on Saturday, February 13, the pour brings together a group of experienced cast-metal sculptors who will take red-hot, glowing liquid iron, pour it into a 150-pound ladle, and then use that ladle to fill one-of-a-kind sculpture molds.

Bring a thermos of something hot to drink, get cozy by the bonfire, and enjoy an afternoon shared experiences. After all, what’s more romantic than making new memories together?

Franconia Sculpture Park
29836 Saint Croix Trail, Franconia, MN 55074

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