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6 moments in the arts we wish hadn’t happened in 2017

We have much to be proud of about the arts in Minnesota. And then there are moments we’d rather forget.

“Scaffold” with protest signs on the fence.
MinnPost photo by Pamela Espeland

We have much to be proud of about the arts in Minnesota. A crazy abundance of theater, dance, music, film, literature, visual arts, crafts and spoken word. A constitutional amendment that has funneled money into the arts all over the state since 2008. A strong arts economy. Foundations and individuals that support the arts. More than our fair share of incredibly talented and creative people.

And then there are moments we’d rather forget. 

1. When the Walker put “Scaffold” in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden

In the European sculpture garden where the Walker’s director, Olga Viso, first saw it, artist Sam Durant’s two-story sculpture “Scaffold” was an artistic statement about capital punishment. In the newly renovated Minneapolis Sculpture Garden, a public park on former Dakota land, it was an affront. “Scaffold” represented seven gallows used in U.S. state-sanctioned executions, including one in Mankato where 38 Dakota men were hanged in 1862. In May, protesters converged, meetings were held and the Sculpture Garden’s grand reopening was delayed. In June, what the Walker built, Native Americans tore down in a public ceremony. In November, Viso resigned.

2. When the Loft had to cancel a writers’ conference

It wasn’t supposed to turn out that way. The Loft Literary Center had invited more than 10 writers of color to speak at its Children’s and Young Adult Literature (CYA) Conference. For various reasons, including overlap with the MEA teachers’ conference, most couldn’t come or decided not to. When the conference was announced in August, the lineup included 21 white speakers and one person of color. Days later, the conference was canceled. “We made a mistake,” the Loft’s Executive Director Britt Udesen said in a statement. “We apologize to our community for that.”

3. When Intermedia Arts decided to sell its building

“Art changes everything.” That short, sweet and powerful phrase appears on Intermedia Arts’ building and T-shirts. But it can’t pay the bills. In September, gripped by a financial crisis, the famously diverse and eclectic nonprofit arts organization laid off its entire staff. On Dec. 5, interim board co-chair Omar Akbar sent out a statement saying that IA had retained a real estate broker for the sale of its building in Lyn-Lake.

4. When the Moving Company was in the hot seat

In May, the Moving Company premiered a newly devised work at the Guthrie called “Refugia.” It’s a play about borders – between nations and peoples, politics and religion, life and death. Some people saw it as tone-deaf, insensitive, offensive and elitist, a product of the white patriarchy. Blog posts were written and heated comments exchanged online. In June, the Guthrie hosted a community conversation about the play. It was a tense and uncomfortable hour for many in the room. People felt heard; people felt hurt.

5. When Transmission had to find a new home

Until August, Clubhouse Jager in the North Loop was home to Transmission, the popular weekly dance party hosted by DJ Jake Rudh. Then City Pages reported that Jager’s owner, Julius De Roma, had donated $500 to the failed 2016 Senate campaign of former KKK leader David Duke. Rudh announced on Facebook: “I refuse to stay at a venue where the owner supports the likes of David Duke and his message of hate.” Club Jager has since closed. Transmission has relocated to the Uptown VFW.

6. When “Medea” was canceled at the Lab

In May, previews for New Epic Theater’s adaptation of “Medea” were about to begin at the Lab Theater when the show was shut down for safety reasons. Mark Benninghofen, one of the stars of the show, was concerned about a water feature located too near an exposed electric circuit. After consulting with union reps, experts, and his co-star, Michelle O’Neill, he blew the whistle on the production. In June, New Epic Theater dissolved.