Last Friday, Robyne Robinson stood in front of the restrooms on Concourse C in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and encouraged a Minnpost reporter and Minnesota Film and TV Board Executive Director Lucinda Winter to check out the art hanging outside the toilets, the sparkling finish of the urinals’ porcelain, the gleaming stainless steel of the hand dryers, and the electronic screen that gives travelers up-to-the-minute updates on the last time the john was cleaned.
“Today I had a conversation with someone whose entire perception of the airport and the state of Minnesota was based on the bathroom not being clean,” said Robinson, who is two weeks into her “dream job” as the airport’s first-ever arts and culture director. “She had a lay-over, she went to the bathroom, she didn’t like it, and she went to the gate and said, ‘I want to be on the next plane out of here.’ All because of the bathroom. It makes a really big difference.”
All about first impressions, in other words, and because airports are in constant competition with each other (MSP came in 71st in this year’s Top 100 Airports Awards) and therefore jumping on the art-in-airports trend, Robinson is on a mission to let the 33 million humans who pass through the airport every year know that they’ve landed in an incomparable hotbed of arts and music.
“Comedians talk about Minnesota being Kirby Puckett and Prince, and that’s it, or they make a joke about how bad the Vikings are,” she said. “But they need to know, really, how much there is here in terms of arts and culture. Once they do, they fall in love, and they want to come back again and again.”
A captive, curious audience
Travelers make for a captive and curious audience, and Robinson wants to grab ’em and showcase local artists’ work and airport employees’ art in juried shows hanging throughout the airport. She has plenty of energy and ideas, including podcasts and kiosks, and she’s in the process of setting up a screening room for local films. A piano has been set up near baggage claim for any and all players; next is a dream of more live music.
“The whole idea is to capture who we are,” she said, pointing down at one of four well-trampled mosaics that brighten up the airport floors. “The whole goal of the arts and culture department is to make sure that we bring in more artwork, rotate it through this airport and make it a living, breathing airport where art works.
“[The airport commission) started working on this eight years ago to emphasize the arts and culture and to make it a more human place, a more inviting place for the community to come into. There’s a push on to make all these airports an experience that you don’t dread or avoid or just come and drop someone off or pick them up and get away from. It’s to make the experience a livable experience, not just sleep on the floor while you’re waiting for a lay-over.”
While artswise, the MSP airport’s claim to fame thus far remains Hollywood’s first visit to the Twin Cities, for the 1970 film “Airport,” Robinson intends to launch events around National Poetry Month, the Minnesota Opera, and “Project Runway.”
“Most of these airports want to make a connection with the community and the people who are coming through,” she said. “It’s no longer this place you have to sit and wait in misery. There’s so much that’s going on in airports, and my job is to meet with these folks at all these great airports — Vancouver, Amsterdam, Miami, Chicago, Houston – and pick their brains and find out what we can do.
‘We have it all in our backyard’
“We’re a smaller airport. We don’t have all the resources that these other airports do, but we can do great things because we have it all in our backyard. We don’t have to go searching for it; I think it’s a sleeping giant.”
To be sure, there may be no better choice for ambassador of the Twin Cities arts and music scene than Robinson. The former news anchor and lieutenant governor candidate makes and sells her own jewelry, she’s well-connected to the gallery scene, and while anchoring at Fox 9 she produced “The Buzz,” the lively and sorely missed local arts and music feature that today’s local TV news hasn’t seen fit to try to replicate.
More than anything, her passion for all things Minnesota comes off as genuine and heartfelt, all of which should translate nicely to Concourse C and beyond.
“I love being out here,” she said. “I know almost everybody out here, from traveling, and it’s just my nature to talk to everybody. So the TSA agents are like, ‘Hey, girl! What are you doing? You work here?!’ They want me to be the face of this, and it’s my sheer joy and desire that the face of this airport is familiar, and family, and can connect with everybody — inside and outside. I have to represent for everybody.”