The Sally Awards aren’t given for things like best picture, best play, best novel or best rock performance. Their categories are far less glam and buzzy: Arts Access, Arts Learning, Commitment, Initiative, Social Impact. But for Minnesotans in the arts, and others who care about the arts, the Sallys are a big deal.
Handed out each year since 1992, named for Sally Ordway Irvine, who mobilized St. Paul to help her create a performing arts venue that would offer “everything from opera to the Russian circus” (and who personally contributed $7.5 million to the project, an amount matched by her family), the Sallys are a grassroots honor. Each winner is first nominated by one or more members of the general public. Nominations are reviewed by a selection committee of 11-13 individuals from Minnesota’s arts communities who represent a variety of perspectives. A selection panel makes the final choices. The awards ceremony is free and open to the public.
To date, 109 artists and groups have received Sally Awards. On Monday, Nov. 4, in the Ordway Concert Hall, five more will step up for theirs. Brief videos about each winner will be shown. Winners will also receive a check for $1,000. For a few moments, they’ll stand in the glow of recognition and thanks.
The 2019 Sally Award winners are:
Lakes Area Music Festival for Arts Access. Each summer, LAMF brings artists and performers from top orchestras and opera companies around the world to collaborate with local artists on a series of classical music concerts in Brainerd. (Between seasons, LAMF keeps the music alive with a winter series of performances in Minneapolis and Nisswa. All are free.)
Monkeybear’s Harmolodic Workshop for Arts Learning. Founded in 2016 by Chamindika Wanduragala, a Sri Lankan American visual artist and DJ (as DJ Chamun), the playfully named Monkeybear gives Native Americans and people of color opportunities to learn, practice and participate in puppetry. This opens the field to a larger breadth of storytelling and the development of new aesthetics.
Janis Lane-Ewart for Commitment. Lane-Ewart is a musician, arts administrator, reporter, mentor and advocate who has spent much of her life supporting and cultivating jazz, artists, and equity “by any means necessary.” She is currently a development officer at the jazz radio station KBEM-FM (Jazz88.FM) and works with several nonprofits as a development consultant and media producer.
Saymoukda Vongsay for Initiative. Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, Lao-American writer Vongsay – aka Refugenius – uses plays, books and poetry to illuminate the stories and lived experiences of refugees. She is a Playwrights’ Center and Theater Mu fellow in playwriting, a Loft Literary center fellow in poetry and children’s literature, a Twin Cities Media Alliance fellow in public art and an Aspen Ideas Bush Foundation scholar.
Kao Kalia Yang for Social Impact. Born in a refugee camp in Thailand, raised in the housing projects of St. Paul, Hmong American writer Yang is the author of two award-winning books, “The Latehomecomer” and “The Song Poet.” The latter has been commissioned by the Minnesota Opera as the first Hmong story to be adapted into an opera. It will have its world premiere here in spring 2021.
The ceremony on Nov. 4 will be emceed by previous Sally recipient Maia Maiden (whose “ROOTED: Special Edition” takes place at the Ordway tonight). Previous Sally recipient and Chinese pipa master Gao Hong will perform; so will actors Traci Shannon and Ann Michels, who appeared in a recent Ordway Cabaret. The evening will begin at 6:30 p.m. with a social and end with refreshments and desserts. It’s free, but RSVP.
Friday and Saturday at the Walker: “For Sama.” Chronicling five years of the uprising in Aleppo, this intimate letter from mother to child won Best Documentary at Cannes and SXSW. Directed by young Syrian filmmaker Waad al-Kateab and Edward Watts. In Arabic with English subtitles. Friday at 7 p.m., Sunday at 2 p.m. FMI and tickets ($10/8).
Opens Saturday at the Minnesota Jewish Theatre Company: Anat Gov’s “O My God!” This is one of those plays where the casting is spot on. James A. Williams as God? An obvious choice. But wait, there’s more. The character of Lior, who has Autism Spectrum disorder, is played by Sean Carroll, a young actor who identifies as autistic. A company member at Interact Theatre, Carroll learned to play the cello for this role. Laura Stearns is Lior’s mother, Ella; this will be Stearns’ fifth role at MJTC. Robert Dorfman directs what he describes as “this audacious comedy about our struggle with God … how, armed with faith, compassion, and humor, we can restore our personal power and find our own true voice.” 8 p.m. FMI and tickets ($23-38). Closes Nov. 17.
Saturday at the O’Shaughnessy: “Wildflowers, a Feminine Genesis.” Internationally acclaimed dancer/choreographer/performance artist Maureen Fleming, who blew our minds in 2015 with “B Madonna” (in which she seemed to float up a ladder), will return with the regional premiere of a new work inspired by Irish poet William Butler Yeats. In a celebration of the female archetype, Fleming will blend her sculptural movements with live music, video and text in a series of “vision poems.” She’ll share the stage with Irish composer/violinist Colm Mac Con Iomaire, James Mahon on uilleann pipes, pianist Bruce Baker playing music of Philip Glass, and geometric moving sculptures and lighting by Christopher Odo. A Woman of Substance event. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($24-34).
Saturday at Minneapolis Cider Company: Diva Cage Match: Tag Team Duets. Continuing his quest to turn opera on its head and spin it around, impresario David Lefkowich will bring a newly tweaked version of his Diva Cage Match to Minneapolis, this time with six pairs of opera singers vocally duking it out. Like all previous versions, this one is sold out. But you can come early and try for a standing room ticket, available on the day of the show. This time, the judges are Dessa, Jevetta Steele, and Michael Christie, former music director of the Minnesota Opera. 7 p.m. FMI and tickets ($40-70, sold out; $20 standing room).
Sunday at the Mall of America: “Six” performance and meet-and-greet. Get a sneak peek at the Ordway’s big holiday show, the global-hit, Broadway-bound musical about the wives of Henry VIII. All six queens will be here to sing a remix of songs, host a public roundtable interview with student journalists, and sign autographs. 1 p.m. in the Rotunda. FMI including event guidelines (wristband required to enter the reserved seating area; otherwise, just show up).
Monday (Oct. 28) at Plymouth Congregational Church: Literary Witnesses: Louis Jenkins. The long-running, much-respected Literary Witnesses series launches its 22nd year with Duluth poet and playwright Louis Jenkins, who will read from his new book, “Where Your House Is Now.” Jenkins is known for his darkly funny prose poems; with Mark Rylance, he also penned a play called “Nice Fish” that had its world premiere at the Guthrie in 2013 before moving on to Boston, New York and London’s West End. This will be Hawona Sullivan Janzen’s debut as Literary Witnesses chair, taking over from Jim Lenfestey, who lured a long list of literary luminaries to the Nicollet Avenue church during his tenure. 7 p.m. Free. Oct. 28 is also Jenkins’ birthday, so at the reception and signing after the reading, there will be cake.