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Bakken Museum announces renovation; ‘Black Nativity’ to open at Penumbra

ALSO: Tracy K. Smith with Talking Volumes at the Fitzgerald; cellist Juliana Soltis at the Baroque Room; and more.

rendering of bakken museum
Artist’s rendering of new Bakken Museum
Courtesy of the Bakken Museum

Starting in January, the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis will undergo big changes. Major renovations to the museum’s lower level will improve accessibility and visitor flow and allow for new exhibits and programming. The entrance will be reoriented to face Bde Maka Ska, formerly Lake Calhoun.

Named for Medtronic co-founder Earl Bakken, the museum was founded in 1975 to house his collection of historical books, machines, and artifacts related to medicine and electricity.

In 1976, what was then called the Bakken Museum of Electricity in Life moved into a mansion on Lake Calhoun’s western shore. This has been its home ever since. In 1998, a new wing nearly doubled the Bakken’s size.

Along with its beautiful building, a combination of English Tudor, European Gothic Revival and other architectural styles, the Bakken is known for its grounds, which include a pond, landscaped wetland area, and medicinal garden.

About 17,000 people visit the Bakken each year. Some 45,000 students across Minnesota take part in its educational programs. Researchers from around the world come to study its 14,000 artifacts and books. The Bakken is Minnesota’s first Smithsonian Affiliate.

Renovations are expected to take six months. Changes to the lower level will affect exhibit spaces, classrooms, the lobby and museum store. An exterior elevated walkway will shift the entrance toward the lake and extend programming out over the wetland.

“The 2020 renovation is about honoring the past, reimagining our education programs, and creating an improved experience for our visitors,” Bakken Museum President and CEO Michael Sanders said in a statement. RSP Architects and Mortenson Construction developed the redesign.

The Bakken will be open on Saturdays and Sundays during construction. Starting Saturday, Dec. 30, some exhibits, the classrooms, and the store will be closed to the public. Plans are to reopen everything in July 2020.

This is just the first phase of a multi-year construction project. Pending financial support, Phase II will further increase the museum’s footprint.

Virtual reality renderings of the renovation are available, if you want to take a look.

Fishy business with Richard Tellström

On Saturday morning at the American Swedish Institute, the Swedish food historian and Stockholm University professor Richard Tellström gave a lecture called “Lutfisk, herring and other fish traditions in Swedish food culture.” It was a run-up to ASI’s annual Lutfisk Dinner, held later that day, but attendance at the dinner wasn’t required.

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We went to hear Tellström because we’d heard him before and knew what to expect: history, insights into meals as social and cultural acts, and surprising facts about food and Swedes, delivered with warmth and intelligence, salted with humor (but not overly so) and never dull. Here are some nuggets from his “fishy business” talk.

  • Herring has special cultural status in Sweden. It’s not fish. It’s herring.
  • Every traditional meal in Sweden starts with pickled herring.
  • Swedes didn’t start eating fresh food until the 1900s. Fish (and herring) were dried, salted, smoked, or pickled. Sushi was unheard of.
  • There are several ways to dry fish. You can hang it. You can spread it out on a cliff (and shoo away birds). You can nail it to the side of your house.
  • To make lutfisk: 1) Get some dried fish, preferably cod or ling. 2) Soak it in water for 5-6 days. 3) Soak it in water and lye for 4-6 days. 4) Soak it in water for 4-5 more days. 5) Put it in the oven for 45 minutes. 6) “Mmmmm.”
  • Why lye? Not to make the fish soft, but to make it white. To the Swedes, white food has religious significance. It’s a symbol of Christ, and it’s much more festive than everyday food, which (for centuries) was mostly brown or gray. “White fish, white porridge, white sauce, white tablecloth – it’s all about whiteness.”
  • For a wine pairing, Tellström recommends a medium-bodied red. “Powerful fish needs a strong friend in the glass.”
  • Swedes in Sweden don’t have lutfisk dinners.

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The picks

Tonight (Wednesday, Nov. 20) at Magers & Quinn: John Freeman presents “Dictionary of the Undoing.” In our current political moment, words are losing the meanings they once had. From Agitate to Zygote, with stops at Citizen, Justice and Rage, Freeman offers what Publishers Weekly called “an alphabet of hope and action.” He’ll be joined by local writer-activists including Wang Ping. David Mura, Chris Martin and Hawona Sullivan Janzen for a discussion about how we can redefine what it means to be a literary citizen. 7 p.m. Free and open to the public. Sponsored by Rain Taxi. 7 p.m. Free and open to the public.

Tonight and Thursday at the Cedar: Charlie Parr CD release shows. On his eponymous new album on Compass Records – his first since a debilitating skateboard incident, after which he had to relearn to play the guitar – the Minnesota folk hero revisits out-of-print classics, offers up new songs and pays tribute to Grant Hart and Spider John Koerner. Parr’s take on “Running Jumping Standing Still” is entirely his own. Solo set tonight, full band tomorrow. Doors at 7 p.m., show at 7:30. FMI and tickets ($25). Both shows are sold out but turnbacks and no-shows happen.

photo of tracy k smith
Photo by Rachel Eliza Griffiths
Tracy K. Smith
Thursday at the Fitzgerald: Talking Volumes: Tracy K. Smith. Lucky Kerri Miller gets to talk to some of today’s most interesting writers, thanks to a years-long partnership between MPR and the Star Tribune. On Thursday she will sit down with Tracy K. Smith, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet (for “Life on Mars,” published by Graywolf), professor at Princeton, former U.S. poet laureate and host of the popular podcast “The Slowdown.” This will be the final Talking Volumes of 2019. Doors at 6, show at 7. FMI and tickets ($32.50/$30.50).

Friday at the Baroque Room: Juliana Soltis: “Going Off Script: The Ornamented Suites for Cello.” Improvisation was a huge part of live performance in Bach’s day, so why do we play the notes on the page exactly as they were written? Young Baroque cellist Soltis, known for her “fierce displays of technique” (Gramophone), is touring behind her latest album, Bach’s cello suites ornamented with her own spontaneous improvisations. We love the cello suites and have heard several recordings. Playing with intelligence and passion, Soltis makes them sound brand new. Two performances: 12 noon (free) and 8 p.m. ($20/10/5). FMI and tickets.

Friday through Sunday at the Trylon: “Ronin.” Directed by John Frankenheimer, this 1998 classic is one of the greatest heist movies of all time, with some of the best high-speed car chases and a fantastic cast: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgård, Natascha McElhone, Sean Bean, Skipp Sudduth, Jonathan Pryce. And it’s showing on a screen not as big as the Showplace Icon’s, but probably a lot bigger than the one you have at home. 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday. FMI and tickets ($8).

Holiday pick

Opens Thursday at the Penumbra: Langston Hughes’ “Black Nativity.” It’s 32 years and counting for this moving and wonderful holiday tradition, a show that’s all heart, soul, sincerity and love, performed by some of the best singers you could ever hope to hear. Directed by Lou Bellamy, narrated by Jennifer Whitlock, with musical direction by Sanford Moore and choreography by Alanna Morris-Van Tassel (new this year to the “Black Nativity” team), it’s a joyful concert version of the Nativity story, featuring Dennis Spears, Greta Oglesby, Yolande Bruce, the Kingdom Life Church Choir and – for a limited number of appearances – PaviElle French. In the intimacy of the Penumbra, with the excellence and passion of the cast, this show will fill you with the reason for the season. Through Sunday, Dec. 22. FMI and tickets ($40-15).

photo of man singing
Photo by Allen Weeks
Dennis Spears in "Black Nativity" 2018.