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McKnight Foundation names arts leader; Brave New Workshop livestreaming comedy

ALSO: Online screenings from MSP Film Society; free audiobooks from Audible; and more.

DeAnna Cummings
DeAnna Cummings will step into her new position on June 1.
Photo by Ryan Stopera

The McKnight Foundation on Friday named DeAnna Cummings its new arts program director. A cofounder of Juxtaposition Arts (JXTA) and its current CEO and co-director, Cummings will step into her new position on June 1. She will follow Vickie Benson, who served as arts program director at McKnight for 11 years. McKnight’s Arts program supports working artists to create vibrant communities.

“DeAnna has been a local leader across sectors for decades, and McKnight has been a longtime advocate and funder of JXTA,” McKnight’s interim president, Pamela Wheelock, said in a statement.

Cummings, her husband Roger Cummings and Peyton Russell cofounded JXTA in 1995 as an after-school arts program in the north side’s Sumner-Glenwood neighborhood. Over the next two decades, it grew to become one of the most important cultural institutions in the Twin Cities.

Today JXTA owns three buildings at one of the busiest intersections in north Minneapolis (Emerson Ave. N. and West Broadway), employs more than 100 people annually (primarily local teens) and is nationally renowned as a model art and design workforce enterprise. In 2018, JXTA launched a four-year, $14-million capital campaign to which McKnight pledged $1.3 million.

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Cummings said in a statement, “My entire career has focused on how the arts can drive equity and build thriving communities. I see immense synergy between McKnight’s focus areas and my values, perspectives, and experience.”

JXTA’s Board of Directors had this to say: “DeAnna has been our fierce and grounded leader, moving us all along our journey. … We will feel her absence at Broadway and Emerson. But we are excited that the entire regional arts community will benefit from her leadership at McKnight Foundation.”

We can’t imagine a more challenging time to step into an arts leadership role. We’re excited to see what Cummings will do at McKnight, a foundation that has reaffirmed and expanded its support for artists and the arts while others have shifted their focus.

BNW launches livestreamed comedy series

Bravo to Brave New Workshop and its artistic director, Caleb McEwen, who stood on an empty stage Saturday night before a mostly empty house and made us laugh.

Like every theater in the Twin Cities (and most worldwide), Brave New Workshop has temporarily canceled its live performances during the COVID-19 pandemic. But you can’t keep a good comedy club down.

Last Saturday (March 21) at 8 p.m., BNW launched what it hopes will be a weekly livestreamed series called “The Brave New Workshop Goes Viral.” McEwen put on a suit and tie, combed his two-weeks-overdue-for-a-haircut hair and delivered nearly an hour and 20 minutes of colorful, often hilarious stories.

Caleb McEwen in a screen grab from "The Brave New Workshop Goes Viral."
Screen shot
Caleb McEwen in a screen grab from "The Brave New Workshop Goes Viral."
On Thursday, March 12, Stephen Colbert hosted the “Late Show” without an audience for the first time. He sipped Scotch and turned to genial bandleader Jon Baptiste more often than usual for reactions and affirmation. McEwen seemed more at ease and together. He was funnier. And he held our attention longer.

“I have spent my entire adult life performing in front of live audiences, and trust me, you have no idea how weird this is,” he said during his opening. “The only thing that can make it more strange than performing in front of a room that is completely empty is performing in a room with one guy with a camera who has stayed 30 feet away from me for the entire time that we have been doing this, and who is staring at me dead-eyed and not laughing at all.”

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Lest you think that BNW has softened its touch during these anxiety-producing times, McEwen titled his one-man show “All the Times I Should Have Died.” Some involved his training to work on a cruise ship and “learning how to be responsible for 3,000 lives.” His trainer was a big Finn named Bengt (sp?) with a morbid sense of humor. McEwen called him “the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Harbinger of Doom.”

Other times McEwen “should have died” included a spur-of-the-minute visit to Tijuana; a walk in St. Paul on a night when police were out in force, looking for a window peeper; and a whale-watching trip on a boat called the Pequod. If you’ve never read “Moby Dick,” the Pequod was Captain Ahab’s ship. It came to a bad end.

McEwen and BNW more than rose to the strange and terrible occasion we find ourselves in. McEwen has been AD there for 24 years. BNW, founded in 1958 by Dudley Riggs, is the oldest, longest-running comedy theater in America. “We’ve dealt with a lot of stuff during that time,” McEwen said. “We’ve never dealt with anything like this before, but we are still here and it is our intent to still be here when this is all over. … We’re going to be right beside you, whether you know it or not.”

The first episode of “The Brave New Workshop Goes Viral” is now available online at BNW’s website. Pay-what-you-can contributions are welcome.

Meanwhile, if you’re compiling a coronavirus playlist, here are four songs BNW used before and after Saturday’s show:

  • The Bee Gees, “Stayin’ Alive”
  • Disturbed, “Down with the Sickness” (heavy metal)
  • M.C. Hammer, “You Can’t Touch This”
  • The Police: “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”

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The picks

Date- and/or time-specific:

Thursday, March 26: “I Am Deliberate and Afraid of Nothing.” A livestreamed reading of poetry, prose and protest by Mizna authors Andrea Abi-karam, Sham-e-Ali Nayeem and Romaissaa Benzizoune. 7 p.m. on the Asian American Writers’ Workshop (AAWW) Facebook page.

Available for a limited time:

Online screenings from MSP Film Society: “Saint Frances” and “Bacurau.” After postponing the 2020 Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival, MSP Film has partnered with independent distributors to offer new films for streaming. These films will not be available for public rental or sales for several months. Order and receive a screener link by email. Your purchase ($12) will directly support MSP Film. “Saint Frances,” an audience award winner at SXSW, would have opened soon at the St. Anthony Main Theatre. Order here ($12). “Bacurau” is a 2020 MSPIFF Official Selection. Order here ($12). Available through Thursday, March 26.

Available anytime:

Free audiobooks from Audible. Want to hear Thandie Newton read “Jane Eyre”? Or Dan Stevens narrate “Frankenstein”? Or Scarlett Johansson narrate “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”? Audible has announced, “For as long as schools are closed, we’re open.” It’s offering a large library of books and stories on audio in several categories (littlest listeners, elementary, tween, teen, literary classics) across six languages, for free.

The Minnesota Orchestra’s historic March 13 concert. If you missed the orchestra’s live broadcast over Classical MPR – during which the musicians, guest soloist Kirill Gerstein and conductor Juanjo Mena performed to an empty house – you can listen to it online. The program: Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 and Shostakovich’s “Leningrad” Symphony.

An image from the Wangensteen Historical Library at the University of Minnesota.
An image from the Wangensteen Historical Library at the University of Minnesota.
Free downloadable coloring books from dozens of museums and libraries. Not that long ago, coloring books for grown-ups were the rage. Claims were made that they lowered stress and anxiety, relaxed the fear center of the brain and boosted mindfulness. Some of those were hyperbolic; as Psychology Today noted, “It seems as though adult coloring books are therapeutic, but they aren’t therapy.” Still, anything that takes your mind off that itty-bitty virus is good. Thanks to Hyperallergic for this assortment of interesting coloring books based on the collections of famous libraries and archives. One links to images from the Wangensteen Historical Library at the University of Minnesota.

How to help

If you had tickets to a concert, play, dance performance or other event that was canceled, and if you have the means to do this, turn them into a tax-deductible donation. Or have the organization bank your tickets for use at a later date.