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The ASI plays with its own history; 11th Minnesota Cuban Film Festival opens

ALSO: Sister Helen Prejean at St. Kate’s; Literary Witnesses: Louise Erdrich at Plymouth Church; and more.

The ball pit in the ballroom of the Turnblad Mansion
New for “extra/ordinary”: The ball pit in the ballroom of the Turnblad Mansion.
Courtesy of the American Swedish Institute

Since opening its 34,000-square-foot Nelson Cultural Center addition in 2012, the American Swedish Institute has hosted dozens of exhibitions in its new Osher Gallery and its original home, the Turnblad Mansion, aka the Castle.

Some we’ll never forget, like the heartbreaking photographs of refugee children from Syria by award-winning Swedish photojournalist Magnus Wennman. Monumental, shimmering watercolors by Lars Lerin. Digitally manipulated, utterly convincing surreal photographs by Erik Johansson. Exquisite works in glass by Bertil Vallien. The dreamlike experience of “The Weather Diaries,” a show that combined fashions, traditions, cultures and powerful artistic statements. An extraordinary exhibition of early Viking artifacts never before allowed outside Sweden.

For its 90th anniversary, the ASI is celebrating itself. It’s opening doors in the Turnblad Mansion to rooms the public never sees. Featuring objects from its collection of 25,000 artifacts that are rarely on display. Having fun in the ballroom. And it’s all because of a wonderful new children’s alphabet book.

In 2017, as part of an exhibition called “A to Zåäö: Exploring ASI’s Collection,” St. Paul-based mother-and-son creative team Tara Sweeney and Nate Christopherson spent July in the Castle’s salon. They were illustrating 29 objects from the collection, some large and some small, many crowd-sourced (ASI audiences were invited to vote for their favorites), each representing a letter from the Swedish alphabet and each with a story to tell

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As Sweeney painted the objects in watercolor, Christopherson added a cast of inquisitive and mischievous pen-and-ink characters. He kept adding them and never took any away, so by the end of the book, there are quite a few. “A to Zåäö: Playing with History at the American Swedish Institute” was published in Dec. 2019 by the University of Minnesota Press. The book debuted at ASI’s holiday market and festival, Julmarknad. And it prompted the exhibition “extra/ordinary: The American Swedish Institute. At Play” that opens Saturday, Feb. 29, and runs through July 5.

Surprises include a 20-foot Dala horse, a miniature battleship, a ball pit in the ballroom, and an old instrument that links an immigrant son and his Swedish father back home. The objects will be shown with Sweeney and Christopherson’s original artwork, now part of the ASI’s permanent collection.

The night before the opening, on Friday, Feb. 28, ASI will host one of its famously lively preview parties. Sweeney and Christopherson will be there. Gallery talks will take place, the musicians of Improvestra will perform, and as you wander the Nelson addition and the Castle, you’ll find activities and experiences everywhere. Doors at 6:30 p.m., event from 7-10 p.m. FMI and tickets ($15/20). Themed food and cocktails from FIKA will be available for purchase.

Sunday, March 1, will be Family Day, filled with activities, games, crafts, interactive storytelling and a Baby Shark sing-along in the ball pit, all included in the price of museum admission.

The picks

Tonight (Thursday, Feb. 27) at St. Catherine University: Sister Helen Prejean. Her tireless work against the death penalty is known to many through her book “Dead Man Walking” and the movie (and opera) that followed. Sister Prejean will give a talk and sign copies of her books including her memoir, “River of Fire: My Spiritual Journey.” In the Rauenhorst Ballroom at Coeur de Catherine. 7 p.m. FMI. Free and open to the public.

Blackout Improv
Courtesy of the artists
Blackout Improv will perform tonight through Saturday at Pillsbury House Theatre.
Tonight through Saturday at Pillsbury House Theatre: Blackout Improv. Pillsbury House’s “Renegade-ism,” three weeks of new works by independent artists, will conclude with three nights of the all-black, Minneapolis-based comedy troupe. A Blackout Improv show mixes hilarity with serious current events, social justice and arts access. Thursday through Saturday, 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets (pick-your-price; regular price $25).

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Tonight and Thursdays through April 2 at the Film Society’s St. Anthony Main Theatre: 11th Minnesota Cuban Film Festival. Six Thursdays, six Cuban films. The first, “Un Traductor,” is based on the true story of a Russian Literature professor at the University of Havana who is ordered to work as a translator for child victims of Chernobyl. (A recent MinnPost commentary provides context.) Others tell the stories of Jeronimo Lim Kim, who joined the Cuban Revolution with his law school classmate, Fidel Castro; the first woman to practice medicine in Cuba (at the time, this was forbidden, so she dressed as a man); a class of first-year medical students imprisoned for a crime they did not commit; and a Havana neighborhood famous for its 20th-century architecture. A highlight: the Minnesota premiere of “Dance Cuba: Dreams of Flight,” which documents the first time a U.S. dance company performed on a Cuban stage since the Revolution and features a score by Chucho Valdes. Director (and Minnesota native) Cynthia Newport will attend. All films in Spanish have English subtitles. FMI including trailers, times and tickets.

"Cultural Cow"
Courtesy of Highpoint Center for Printmaking
"Cultural Cow" by Yainiel Marínez 2019, Screenprint
Friday at Highpoint Center for Printmaking: Opening reception for 20/20: Contemporary Cuban Printmaking. Cuba has a rich history of traditional printmaking. Created in collaboration with Steven Daiber, Director of Trillium Press in Massachusetts, who has been to Cuba regularly since 2001, this exhibition includes works by 19 Cuban printmakers, from established to emerging. According to Daiber, “Cuban art stands up to adversity with humor and resolve.” 6:30-9 p.m. FMI. On view through March 28.

Louise Erdrich
Louise Erdrich
Sunday at Plymouth Congregational Church: Literary Witnesses: Louise Erdrich. At her only Twin Cities event before leaving on a national tour, Erdrich will present her latest novel, “The Night Watchman.” Based on the life of Erdrich’s grandfather, who carried the fight against Native dispossession from rural North Dakota to Washington, D.C., it’s already winning raves. Kirkus called it an “unhurried, kaleidoscopic story … a knowing, loving evocation of people trying to survive with their personalities and traditions intact.” Plan to arrive early. 4 p.m. Free. A reception and book signing will follow.