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Remembering Pamela Espeland

As MinnPost’s Artscape columnist, Pamela threw herself into the worlds of dance, music, theater, visual arts, literature and so much more. 

MinnPost photo by Annabelle Marcovici

On Tuesdays in MinnPost, the first Artscape of the week would normally appear, reporting on Twin Cities arts events. But Artscape will not appear this Tuesday. Instead, I’m devastated to share the news that its author, Pamela Espeland, has died. She collapsed at home on Sunday night while working at her desk.

Pamela was a consummate pro for whom 9 to 5 was more like 24/7. She and her husband, John Whiting, would frequently attend multiple arts events in a day – and the day often extended far into the night and early hours of the morning. I was Pamela’s editor, and I would often run into her and John during intermission at the Northrop or Orchestra Hall  — only to hear about what venue they were heading to after the performance. So it was no surprise that Pamela was prepping for the week’s interviews on Sunday.

Jazz was Pamela’s specialty, and she began writing about jazz for MinnPost when the site launched in 2007. A few years later, I asked Pamela whether she’d be interested in starting a column that encompassed the arts in general. Fortunately for us, she said yes. Pamela wrote about the development of Artscape after I retired earlier this month.

Now it’s my turn to share thoughts about her. 

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For each column, Pamela could have highlighted a few upcoming arts events and let it go at that. Such was the modest initial plan for Artscape. But she threw herself into the worlds of dance, music, theater, visual arts, literature and so much more — and Artscape became a place to find Pamela’s thoughtful reviews, her “picks” for upcoming days and news about everything from the Minnesota Book Awards winners to the new Minnesota poet laureate. One of her many strengths was interviewing — everyone from authors to composers to visiting stage directors. Her questions were thoughtful, knowledgeable, insightful and sensitive.

Pamela Espeland
Photo by John Whiting
Pamela Espeland
She had a lively, curious mind and a kind, generous spirit. If she didn’t like a performance, she figured others might. She chose to highlight performances that she didn’t want others to miss, and her acumen tended to connect with both readers and journalism contest judges.

When the COVID-19 pandemic closed everything down on one memorable March weekend last year, Pamela wondered what to do with Artscape, since no live performances would be happening. She decided to record the extraordinary effects COVID was having on the local arts world — conducting in-depth interviews with Twin Cities artists, performers, authors and arts managers, leaders and advocates.

The Q&As showed MinnPost readers how the interviewees were affected, yes, but also how they were coping and struggling to survive. Pamela’s interviews kept us informed about how artists came up with new forms of presentation and new collaborations with other artists — and how they banded together to help garner government funding for strapped venues. 

Last Thursday, in trying to capture the surging momentum in the arts world this fall, Pamela wrote, “After 18 months of postponements, cancellations and virtual events, there is so much pent-up energy, with so many things happening at once or about to happen, that it’s impossible to stay in front of it all. We’ve seen more than a few fall arts seasons, but none that compares to this one. What’s live, what’s virtual, what’s hybrid? What’s on, what’s off, what’s TBD? What’s limited capacity, what’s full capacity? Indoors or out? What’s now, what’s next? How can we feel safe? Can we really make plans for six months from now, or a week, or tomorrow?” She was excited to help answer those questions. 

And now we are in shock and feeling her loss deeply, realizing that we will no longer be illuminated by the radiant, effervescent light she brought to her work on the arts — and to everything she did.